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What Happens At A Dental Prophylaxis Appointment?

Has your dentist recommended a dental prophylaxis appointment? This type of appointment is a common preventative measure. Here's what you can expect from this type of dental visit.

What to Expect During Your Dental Prophylaxis Appointment

This appointment is a routine, preventative procedure. The dental hygienist will update your medical history to see if there have been any changes in your medical health. During your appointment, you may need to have x-rays taken. Bite-wing x-rays are taken every year of your premolar and molar teeth to determine if you have cavities in these areas of your mouth. Some dental practices also take pictures of the anterior incisor teeth too.


X-rays help your dentist discover oral health problems. The American Dental Association (ADA) and the Food and Drug Administration teamed up to establish dental radiographic examination guidelines. It is up to the x-ray protocol that the dentist recommend's in his or her office. If you have excellent oral health and see your dentist regularly, your dentist may recommend x-rays less often than if you're an at-risk patient. Factors dentists consider are your age, oral health, risk for disease, and if there are already signs of oral disease or the patient is in discomfort.

Periodontal Probing for Measuring Tissue Depth

After the medical history update and determine if x-rays are needed, the dental hygienist will examine your gum tissue and conduct a periodontal probing. She will measure the depth of your gum tissue with a periodontal probe. Your dental hygienist will also check your teeth to determine if there are any areas of decay to bring to the dentist's attention and then will conduct a thorough cleaning. Your dental hygienist will use special instruments (ultrasonic and hand) to remove plaque and tartar from your teeth and beneath your gumline. The hygienist will also polish your teeth to remove extrinsic (exterior) tooth stains and then will floss your teeth.

On-Going Oral Care Recommendations

Your dental hygienist may also make recommendations for taking better care of your mouth at home. They may remind you to brush your teeth twice per day, floss once per day, and use a mouthrinse.

Your dentist will then perform a full examination of your mouth. This includes examining your teeth, gums and the rest of your mouth for signs of disease. The dentist may check to see if your gums are healthy by performing a periodontal probing.

Some patients need antibiotic prophylaxis to help prevent infection before their appointment, explains the ADA. This is recommended for people with certain heart conditions, like prosthetic cardiac valves, to try to prevent infective endocarditis (an inflammation of the heart's inner lining). Some people with prosthetic joints may need antibiotic prophylaxis, too. Your doctor and dentist can let you know if you'll need antibiotics prior to your appointment.

Why Dental Prophylaxis is Done

If you take good care of your teeth at home, you may be wondering why your dentist says you need this appointment. There are many dental problems that you may not notice at an early stage. They may not cause pain, and may not show any visible signs. However, a dental prophylaxis appointment can help your dentist diagnose these problems at an early stage.

For example, in the early stages, you may not feel any pain from a cavity. During your appointment, your dentist may find a small cavity and repair it before it gets larger and causes you pain.

How Often Dental Prophylaxis is Needed

Most people need to see their dentist for this appointment twice a year. However, some people need to follow a different schedule. If your teeth and gums are very healthy, your dentist may not need to see you as often. Or, if you have a high risk of dental disease, your dentist may recommend more frequent visits. People in high-risk groups may need to see their dentist for a dental prophylaxis appointment every three or four months.

High-risk groups include people who smoke, people with gum disease, and people who tend to get a lot of cavities. Pregnant women, diabetics, or people with weakened immune systems may also need more appointments. Make sure your dentist knows about your health conditions so she can recommend an appointment prophylaxis schedule.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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