In addition to daily brushing and flossing, you can help protect your oral health by seeing your dentist regularly for checkups. It’s recommended that most people get a dental checkup every six months, but your dentist may recommend more frequent or fewer visits, depending on your dental health history.

The Dental Checkup: What to Expect

In most cases, a dental hygienist and dentist will perform your dental checkup. Not every dentist operates the same way, but a dental checkup typically involves:

  • Cleaning and polishing. Your dental hygienist will use a special instrument called a hand scaler or ultrasonic dental instrument to scrape and remove the tartar from your teeth. He or she will then polish your teeth, often with a rotating rubber cup or brush, to remove any remaining plaque or stains.
  • Education. After the cleaning, your hygienist or dentist will discuss any dental hygiene problems that were detected, and show you how to brush and floss more effectively, if necessary.
  • Examination. Both your dental hygienist and dentist will examine your teeth, gums, and mouth, to look for changes or signs of a problem (for example, a cavity or gum disease or early signs of oral cancer). During the examination, your dentist may also use a special probe to measure the “pockets” between your teeth and gums, an explorer tool to poke at your teeth and determine if any cavities are present, and a mouth mirror to get a better view of the sides and back of your teeth. If you have any visible problems, your dentist may recommend a particular treatment or may refer you to a specialist, such as a periodontist or orthodontist, for further treatment.
  • X-rays. At some of your dental visits, your dentist may decide to take X-rays of your teeth to look for decay, gum disease, or other dental problems. X-rays expose you to radiation so in order to avoid having them done more than necessary, bring copies of previous X-rays with you when you’re visiting a new dentist.

Sometimes you may have a more thorough dental checkup, which is called a comprehensive examination. You will probably have a comprehensive examination the first time you see a dentist, and periodically thereafter. During a comprehensive dental examination, your dentist will:

  • Thoroughly examine your mouth, head, and neck
  • Discuss your medical history with you
  • Take a series of X-rays

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