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Why are dental check ups important and how often should I be going?

Updated: Mar 18

How Often Should You Go to the Dentist? Regular visits are essential to maintain healthy teeth and gums and for oral cancer screenings. Because many factors go into determining your oral health risks, the interval between dental checkups should be determined individually for each patient between every 3 to 12 months.

Why Visits are So Important: Your check up appointment is vital for monitoring and removal of plaque or calculus (aka tartar). Areas that are improperly cleaned or missed at home can compound quickly with time. You may think that you're removing all of the plaque but, if you don't, it quickly hardens into calculus which can't be removed with a toothbrush or floss. If that calculus is not removed, the gums become inflamed (gingivitis) and after a few months this inflammation involves the bone leading to bone loss (periodontitis). While gingivitis is reversible, bone loss is not. Periodontal disease is the most common cause of tooth loss among adults. This is why it's so important to have your gums checked regularly by a professional if you want to keep your natural teeth. Check up/cleaning visits assess your oral hygiene methods, levels of attachment around your teeth, identify any early signs of periodontitis, monitor your response to treatments, and much more.

Remember, it's easier and cheaper to maintain your health than to regain it. A Breakdown of What is Assessed:
  1. Oral Cancer Detection: with regular dental checkups the likelihood of catching oral cancer in time is dramatically higher. Recognizing oral cancer in its early stages is key in treating it successfully and while you may not notice oral abnormalities, your dentist will. Looking for abnormalities only takes your dentist a minute and could mean an extremely serious disease is identified early enough to make a huge difference.

  2. Plaque, Tartar, Cavities: there will always be small areas in the mouth that are missed by a regular brushing and flossing. When plaque becomes calculus, it is extremely difficult to get rid of without professional help. Plaque and tartar erode teeth and create cavities. This can be avoided with regular cleanings that take care of plaque and tartar before it becomes destructive.

  3. Gum Disease: plaque and tartar buildup not only cause tooth decay but can also erode the mouth’s gum tissues. Tartar buildup causes an infection where the gum is connected to the tooth, making the gum pull away from the tooth (gingivitis). As this progresses, the tissue that attaches gums to the teeth breaks down sometimes causing swelling, bleeding, or soreness in the mouth. After a short time, gum disease causes a breakdown of the bone that holds teeth in place causing tooth loosening or loss. Those with severe gum disease may need to see a specialist requiring more appointments at a higher cost and may even need surgery, extremely deep cleaning, and medication depending on the severity.

  4. Keeping Bad Habits in Check: there are many bad habits that can impact your health including chewing ice, biting your nails, clenching your jaw, grinding your teeth, eating particularly sticky or hard sweets, brushing your teeth too hard, drinking coffee and red wine, and of course smoking. At your checkups, your dental professionals can check for any oral damage caused by these or other habits. Being informed about specific destructive habits allows you to change or alter your lifestyle choice to prevent further damage, fix the damage that has already been done, and help your oral health be the best it can be.

  5. Finding Problems Under the Surface with X-Rays: x-rays help your dentist to see cavities in-between the teeth which simply cannot be visualized until they are large enough to create a hole in the tooth. They also allow us to see damage to the jawbone from gum disease as well as any bone decay, swelling, cysts, or tumors, all of which are impossible to actually see without x-ray imaging.

What Goes On During a Dentist Visit? Checking your teeth for tooth decay is just one part of a thorough dental examination. There are 2 main parts to a regular dental visit – the check up (exam) and the cleaning (prophylaxis or periodontal maintenance). 1. The Dental Cleaning During this part of the dental visit, your dental professional cleans your mouth using these methods:

  • Checking the cleanliness of your teeth and gums, measuring the gums

  • Removing any plaque and tartar by scaling with special tools

  • Polishing your teeth with a gritty paste to remove any surface stains on your teeth

  • Flossing to make sure the areas between your teeth are clean

  • Reviewing recommended brushing and flossing techniques

2. The Exam

Your dentist may start off with a head and neck exam to look for any signs of trouble - swelling, redness, or possible signs of cancer:

  • Examining your face and neck

  • Checking your lymph nodes

  • Checking your jaw joints (TMJs) Next, your dentist assesses the state of your teeth and gums by:

  • Looking for visual evidence of tooth decay

  • Examining the gums and the measurements of spaces between your teeth and gums

  • Looking for signs of gum disease

  • Checking for loose teeth

  • Looking at the tissues inside of your mouth

  • Examining your tongue

  • Checking your bite

  • Checking for broken teeth

  • Checking for damaged fillings

  • Looking for changes in the gums covering teeth

  • Evaluating any dental appliance you have

  • Checking the contacts between your teeth

  • Taking X-rays to evaluate cavities that can't be seen visually, check bone levels in between teeth, look for infections, and more

  • Looking for signs of other health issues (diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, etc.)

  • Looking for intra-oral signs of oral cancer (see chart below)

Once your examination and cleaning have been performed, we'll tell you about the health of your teeth and gums and then make any additional recommendations.

Why Does My Dentist or Hygienist Recommend Frequent Returns? Your recall schedule depends on what your dentist or hygienist sees in your mouth, your oral hygiene at home, and your diet. As mentioned before, recall frequency can be as little as 3 months to as much as 12. For people with bone loss, it's very difficult to reach far down enough on the root or below the gum line with a simple toothbrush; dental tools are needed for this. Studies show that after a professional cleaning, microbial plaque tends to grow back to pre-cleaning levels after about 3 to 4 months. That's the reason that some people are required to return every 3 to 4 months to maintain their oral health. Note: Periodontal disease and tooth loss are associated with an increased risk of oral cancer. What You Should Be Doing In-Between Visits: Be sure to take care of your teeth and gums between regular dental visits. Plaque is always forming on your teeth, but you can manage it by brushing and flossing regularly. Here are some tips for good oral care at home:

  1. Brushing properly at least twice daily with a fluoridated toothpaste to disrupt the growth of bacteria and to remove plaque from the gums/below the gumline

  2. Flossing daily and/or using interdental brushes (if there is a sufficiently large space between teeth)

  3. Using and antiseptic mouthwash to help combat gingivitis, control plaque bacteria, and keep your breath fresh

So, Are Dental Checkups Worth the Effort?

Dentists and dental professionals are not only concerned with fixing teeth. They professionally clean your teeth, aim to ensure your teeth and gums are healthy, and check for abnormalities that may otherwise go unnoticed and could be a sign of larger health issues. Dental professionals make sure that your bones are strong, and will help you correct any habits that may be sabotaging your oral health, among other things.

Skipping dental appointments may not seem like a big deal if you view these appointments as "cleanings only," but they are so much more than that!
Oral issues can develop and progress extremely quickly whether or not you notice it. By keeping on top of your dental cleanings and checkups you’re doing yourself a big favour in the long run! A cleaning appointment is also more affordable than getting a filling, so if money’s tight you should make sure not to miss those cleanings. Be true to your teeth, or they'll be false to you!

Dr. Stephanie Stephan DDS, Dentist in Auburn Hills and Pontiac, Michigan 1590 Baldwin Avenue, Auburn Hills, Michigan 48340

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