First, it is important to find a dentist with whom you feel comfortable. Once you've found a dentist you like, your next step is to schedule a check-up — before any problems arise.
On your first visit to a dentist, they will take a full health history. On subsequent visits, if your health status has changed, make sure to tell them.
Most dental visits are checkups. Regular checkups (ideally every six months) will help your teeth stay cleaner, last longer and can prevent painful problems from developing.
- A thorough cleaning
Checkups almost always include a complete cleaning, either from your dentist or a dental hygienist. Using special instruments, a dental hygienist will scrape below the gumline, removing built-up plaque and tartar that can cause gum disease, cavities, bad breath and other problems. Your dentist or hygienist may also polish and floss your teeth.
- A full examination
Your dentist will perform a thorough examination of your teeth, gums and mouth, looking for signs of disease or other problems. His or her goal is to help maintain your good oral health and to prevent problems from becoming serious, by identifying and treating them as soon as possible.
Depending on your age, risks of disease and symptoms, your dentist may recommend X-rays. X-rays can diagnose problems otherwise unnoticed, such as damage to jawbones, impacted teeth, abscesses, cysts or tumors, and decay between the teeth. A modern dental office uses machines that emit virtually no radiation — no more than you would receive from a day in the sun or a weekend watching TV. As a precaution, you should always wear a lead apron when having an X-ray. And, if you are pregnant, inform your dentist, as X-rays should only be taken in emergency situations.
Your dentist may ask for a Panoramic X-ray, or Panorex. This type of film provides a complete view of your upper and lower jaw in a single picture, and helps the dentist understand your bite and the relationship between the different teeth and your arch.
If your teeth and gums are in good shape, you probably won't need to return for three to six months. If further treatment is required — say to fill a cavity, remove a wisdom tooth, or repair a broken crown — you should make an appointment before leaving the office. And don't forget to ask your dentist any questions you may have —this is your chance to get the answers you need.