What you can expect
During a dental exam, the dentist or hygienist will:
- Evaluate your overall health and oral hygiene
- Evaluate your risk of tooth decay, root decay, and gum or bone disease
- Evaluate your need for tooth restoration or replacement
- Check your bite and jaw for problems
- Remove stains or deposits on your teeth
- Demonstrate proper cleaning techniques for your teeth or dentures
- Assess your need for fluoride
- Possibly take dental X-rays or, if necessary, do other diagnostic procedures
During a dental exam, your dentist or hygienist will also ask about your health problems or medications you take and discuss how they might affect your oral health. If you have diabetes, for example, you're at increased risk of gum disease.
Medications that contribute to dry mouth can increase your risk of tooth decay. If arthritis or another condition hampers your ability to brush your teeth, your dentist or hygienist might show you how to insert the handle of your toothbrush into a rubber ball to make gripping easier — or recommend an electric toothbrush.
If you have prosthetic replacements — such as dentures or bridges — your dentist or hygienist will examine how well they fit and discuss the need for adjustments.
Dental exams might also include counseling about diet, use of tobacco products and other lifestyle factors that can affect oral health.
A dental X-ray allows the dentist to see detailed images of specific sections of your mouth to help diagnose problems not visible during the dental exam. X-rays aren't typically needed at every dental visit, and your dentist or hygienist will discuss with you the need for X-rays based on your oral health and risk of disease.
Radiation exposure from dental X-rays is very low, especially from digital X-rays now used, but talk to the dentist if you're concerned.
Oral cancer exam
During your dental exam, your dentist or hygienist will look for signs of oral cancer. He or she will feel the area under your jaw, the sides of your neck, and the insides of your lips and cheeks, as well as examine the sides of your tongue and the roof and floor of your mouth.
In some cases, the dentist might recommend making a dental impression of one or both jaws to produce a replica of your teeth and oral tissues. This can help the dentist or hygienist evaluate your bite or make a mouthguard or bleaching trays.
The dentist or hygienist will fill horseshoe-shaped trays with a soft, gelatin-like material and place them over your upper or lower teeth. After a few minutes, the trays are removed and used to create a dental cast of your mouth. The dentist might also have you bite down on a soft material to record and evaluate your bite.