Overview

Taking care of your teeth means more than brushing and flossing. For complete care, it’s important to visit a dentist every six months for a regular checkup and professional cleaning.

The first step in this process is to find a dentist with whom you feel comfortable, and then schedule an appointment. Most dental visits are checkups. Regular checkups (ideally every six months) and professional cleaning will help your teeth and gums stay cleaner, last longer and can prevent painful problems from developing.

Bringing your little one for a visit? Pediatric dental offices typically offer an environment designed to make children comfortable. Rooms may be decorated with bright colors, animals or fun designs. Waiting rooms often feature a variety of toys. They may even have activity tables or video game consoles available. A fun environment makes the dentist's office a treat for children to visit. They will remain patient and entertained until it's their turn and may even beg to return sooner than needed so they can play more.

Understanding

On your first visit, your dentist will take a full health history. On follow-up visits, if your health status has changed, make sure to tell your dentist. Here’s what you can expect during most trips to the dentist, though depending on your oral history, your experience may vary.

A Thorough Cleaning
Checkups almost always include a complete dental cleaning, either from your dentist or a dental hygienist. Using special instruments, a dental hygienist will scrape along and below the gum line, removing built-up plaque and tartar that can cause gum disease, cavities, bad breath and other problems. Your dentist or hygienist will polish and floss your teeth during the visit and instruct you on oral care techniques and products to use at home for improved oral health.

A Full Dental Examination
Your dentist will perform a thorough examination of your teeth, gums and mouth, looking for signs of disease or other problems. The 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.

X-rays
Depending on your age, risks of oral 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. If you are pregnant, inform your dentist, as X-rays should only be taken in emergency situations.

Planning

If your teeth and gums are in good shape, you probably won't need to return for six months. If further treatment is required — say to fill a cavity, repair a broken crown or remove a wisdom tooth — you should make an appointment before leaving the dental office.

Now, if you’re avoiding dental visits because of some anxiety, the following tips may help you relax and get the attention your teeth need and deserve:

  • Ask friends and family
    If you don’t already have a dentist, ask people you trust about their own dentist and if they are happy with their healthcare provider. Word of mouth is a great way to find a good dentist.

  • Search for a dentist online
    Many dental offices have web sites where you can learn about their practices and the type of services they offer, meet the staff and learn what values and goals the practice wants to achieve with patients. If you have found a few dental practices that look promising, schedule a brief appointment to meet the dentist or ask friends and neighbors if they are patients or if they know anything about them.

  • Talk about your feelings
    Once you choose a dentist; make sure you communicate with the dentist and staff. Don’t be shy! You are not the first patient to feel nervous or anxious. Convey your concerns and fears before a procedure or if you experience any discomfort during your visit. It is very important to have clear and open communication with your dental professional. Talking will make your dental experience more relaxed and pleasant.

  • Ask questions
    Ask your dental team to inform you about the type of dental treatment they recommend based upon your unique oral health needs. Once a treatment plan has been developed, ask your dentist to explain the procedures in detail. Knowing what to expect before it happens can help put your mind at ease.

  • Relax
    If you are uptight or nervous prior to a procedure, talk to the dentist about ways to make the experience easier. There are medications to help you relax, and can be prescribed depending on the level of your anxiety. The dentist and staff should make every effort to make your visit comforting and stress-free.