What Should Dental Patients Expect At Their Semi-Annual Dental Exams?

The semi-annual dental exam along with restorative work and tooth repair still constitutes the bread and butter of the typical family dental provider. However, many of the same dentists now offer other services such as cosmetic dentistry and sedation options when requested to alleviate fears or pain. Although dental health is still the primary concern of practitioners, aesthetics have become more important than in times past, especially given the stock people place in a nice smile.

Most everyone knows that dental hygiene begins at home with regular twice daily brushing and flossing, though most dentists would prefer brushing after every meal. Six-month dental checkups and cleanings are generally considered the minimum needed for most patients to maintain the health of their teeth and gums.

During these routine semi-annual visits, a patient can expect several things. While a new patient will have to complete a pretty comprehensive medical history, a returning patient will be asked for any updates such as new medications or any severe or complicated illnesses since the last visit. Dentists need much of this information to help them know what types of conditions to look for as general health problems can affect the teeth and gums, and in the case of sedation, for example, to ensure that any medications they might use do not conflict with ones you are already taking.

By far, the “team” approach is most common to family dental practices. This means, basically, that the dentist employs several hygienists who administer cleanings and perform general tasks such as initial checkups, fluoride treatments and taking X-rays. The dentist will typically make a brief appearance at the end of one’s six-month exam, running through some of the same procedures as the hygienist and performing a more comprehensive check for periodontal disease, oral cancer and occlusion problems. Most the dentist’s time, though, is taken up patients requiring procedures such as filling cavities, performing root canals and other more complex procedures. In addition, the dentist is usually very involved in cosmetic procedures such as repair of cracked or chipped teeth, crowns, veneers, and even what was generally considered orthodontic work.

During the examination, the dental hygienist will use a variety of implements. Two common tools, the crown horn and the fishhook, are used to check the state of fillings. A pigtail tool is used to detect hardened plaque deposits or calculus. To actually clean the teeth, a hygienist might use a scraping tool known as a scaler or a scoop-shaped curet. Ultrasonic scalers, electronic instruments that rely upon very high-frequency sound, are sometimes used for cleaning as well. Each tooth, both above and below the gum line, is cleaned.

The last steps of the cleaning are polishing of the enamel, flossing and, occasionally, a fluoride treatment. Periodically, X-rays will be taken to give the dentist a very intimate view of one’s teeth and gums from the front and both sides.

Aside from exams and cleanings, many family dentists offer a host of additional services such as cosmetic and even sedation dentistry. Cosmetic dentistry is the practice of improving the physical appearance of teeth, while sedation or sleep dentistry involves anesthetizing the patient in order to perform more intensive procedures such as root canals and oral surgery. The range of services offered by family dentists has increased, especially in the last ten years. Still, the semi-annual exam and cleaning are the foundations of good, basic dental health and the starting points of all other procedures.

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