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For most people, two dental checkups per year are sufficient. But if you have special problems or if you’re at high risk for conditions such as periodontal disease, your dentist may recommend that you come in as frequently as every three months. A routine visit will include a professional cleaning, an exam and possibly X-rays. Your dentist should also discuss your health history, asking about your past dental problems, allergies, medication use, drug reactions, recent illnesses and chronic diseases.
During the cleaning, the dentist or hygienist will use a scaler (a small metal instrument with a bladelike end) to scrape off tartar above and below the gum line or an ultrasonic-vibrating device to shake loose plaque and tartar, and then rinse it away with a stream of water. The dentist or hygienist will then polish your teeth with a lightly abrasive toothpaste and finish up with a flossing. The now-smooth tooth surfaces make it more difficult for plaque to accumulate before the next cleaning.
After your teeth are clean, your dentist will examine them for signs of decay using a metal probe and small mirror with an angled handle. He/she will check for gum swelling and redness, and measure the depth of the gingival pockets. Swelling, redness and deep pockets are all signs of gum disease. Your dentist will test how your upper and lower teeth come together, and will look for evidence of tooth grinding or problems with the temporomandibular joint (which connects the lower jaw to the skull). He/she should also examine your neck, lymph glands, palate and the soft tissues of your mouth (cheeks, tongue, lips and floor of the mouth) for signs of infection or oral cancer, especially if you are age 35 or older. Because early detection of oral cancer is important, if you’re unsure whether your dentist screens you regularly for this disease, ask him/her to do so at each exam. You also may want to perform a monthly self-exam, particularly if you're at high risk.
Republished from Delta Dental
Additional source: Dental Health for Adults: A Guide to Protecting Your Teeth and Gums. Copyright by Harvard University. All rights reserved.