Key Takeaways

  • Having regular dental exams helps your dentist catch problems early, when they’re much easier, less painful and less expensive to treat.
  • Many dental diseases will not show symptoms or cause pain in the early stages. By the time you are experiencing pain or swelling, the disease has already progressed.
  • How often you should have a dental exam depends on many different things including your unique oral health needs, your general health and lifestyle factors.

Your First Appointment

When you see your dentist for the first time, they will ask you for your medical history. There are a number of things you should make your dentist aware of. Some of these include:

  • Any medical conditions you may have. These can affect your dental care and treatment.
  • Any medications you are taking. Some side effects can affect the conditions in your mouth. Different medications can also interact negatively with each other.
  • Any changes you noticed in your teeth or gums, such as looseness or bleeding when you brush.
  • Any sensitivity to heat or cold.
  • If you are aware of clenching or grinding your teeth, or if your neck or jaw muscles are too tight.
  • Whether you smoke or consume alcohol frequently. If so, you may be at greater risk for certain types of oral cancer.
  • If you’re pregnant. Your dentist may suggest that you postpone certain treatments for the duration of your pregnancy. They may recommend more frequent professional cleanings during your second or early third trimester to help reduce the chance of developing gingivitis (gum disease).
  • Your family history – for example, if you have or had cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, and any dental history of periodontal disease.
  • If you’re nervous about going to the dentist. New technologies and processes have made dentistry more comfortable for patients. Talking to your dentist may reassure you and help you feel more relaxed.

The Dental Exam

The dentist will look in your mouth for things that can affect your oral – and overall – health. Many of these are things you can’t see on your own, but that a dentist is trained to detect. Here is some of what your dentist is looking for during a dental exam:

  • Damaged, missing or decayed teeth
  • Early signs of cavities
  • The condition of your gums. Inflammation or other signs of gum disease can lead to tooth and bone loss
  • How previous dental work like root canals, fillings and crowns are holding up
  • Early signs of mouth or throat cancer, and other suspicious growths or cysts
  • Signs of bleeding or inflammation on your tongue and on the roof or floor of your mouth
  • The position of your teeth (e.g., spacing, bite)
  • Signs that you clench or grind your teeth. This is a treatable problem that can cause headaches or a sore jaw. If serious, it can lead to hearing loss and tooth loss
  • The health and function of your temporomandibular joint (which joins the jaw to skull), and any pain or tenderness
  • The general condition of the bones in your face, jaw and around your mouth

Along with a visual inspection of your mouth, your exam may also include a check of your neck area. The dentist will feel the glands and lymph nodes for possible signs of inflammation. This could be a sign of general health problems.

Your dentist may also take dental X-rays if they think it is necessary. These can show problems that can’t be seen just by looking, such as:

  • Cavities under existing fillings
  • Fractures
  • Impacted wisdom teeth
  • Decay under your gum line
  • Bone loss caused by gum disease

When dentists spot problems, they give their patients a treatment plan and options for care that best meet their individual needs. Your dentist is also there to answer your questions. If there’s something you don’t understand about the exam, diagnosis or treatment plan, be sure to ask them about it.

How often should you go to the dentist?

It is recommended that you see your dentist at least once a year. Your dentist may recommend more frequent visits depending on:

  • your unique oral health needs;
  • your general health (some medical conditions can affect your oral health); and
  • your lifestyle, e.g. smoking.

Have you booked your next dental appointment?

Use our tool to find a dentist in your area.

Find a Dentist