Many younger adults forego regular dental checkups during their 20s and 30s. This leads to major complications later in life, when those poor habits earlier in life can lead to oral health problems that are difficult and expensive to remedy.

Yet, more than one in three adults in Canada and the United States have not visited a dentist in the last year! This is a serious public health issue; regular dental checkups not only benefit your dental hygiene but can also help in detecting other undiagnosed medical issues such as sleep apnea and the risk issues related to heart disease. 

It’s literally true that seeing your dentist regularly could potentially save your life.

If you haven’t been to the dentist in a while, it’s probably something that is lingering in the back of your mind. You know you need to go in and establish a regular dental care routine with your dentist, but you are anxious about the fact that you haven’t been in a while and you aren’t sure what to expect when you return to the dentist office. 

This primer will help you understand what a routine dental process looks like, as many who haven’t been to a dentist since childhood don’t remember exactly what to expect.

Just how often should I go to the dentist?

Most experts recommend that people visit their dentist for a routine checkup every six months. This is recommended so that patients stay up to date on your oral hygiene and avoid the need for emergency services that may or may not be covered by your insurance. Seeing the dentist at scheduled intervals can aid in early detection of gum disease, oral cancer and other potential diseases. 

Pregnant women may want to have checkups more frequently during their pregnancy due their heightened vulnerability to gum disease and tooth decay during that time. 

Regular visits to the dentist can not only help you detect serious health issues, regular cleanings can actually prevent the development of such conditions. A correlation has been found between heart disease and severe forms of gum disease — 91 percent of patients with heart disease report a severe form of gum disease. Studies show inflammation in the mouth causes inflammation throughout the blood vessels, which could raise blood pressure and cause a severe heart attack. Regular visits can help you to avoid the onset of gum disease and the associated potential health risks.

Is my medical and dental history important?

Yes it is very important. At the beginning of an appointment with a new dentist, you can anticipate a thorough survey about your personal and family medical history. This will offer your dentist further insight into issues that they should be on high alert for. For example, if you note that you are a consistent snorer in your sleep, it will tip off to your dentist to discuss snoring mouthpiece options with you during your exam or screen you for potential sleep apnea.

What to expect in the initial dental exam?

In addition to your medical history, your dentist will gather further information through a series of tests and examinations. When your dentist asks you to open your mouth and say “ah”, they are looking for inflammation in your tonsils, any health indicators present on your tongue, and any other potential abnormalities.

Will I need to have an X-ray?

Likely X-rays are very important to a a thorough dental exam. They enable your dentist to see what is happening inside your mouth that is not visible to the naked eye. X-rays can show decay, cavities, impacted teeth, and even signs of cancer.

There are many different types of x-rays that your dentist might conduct depending on what features they would like to focus on:

  • Cone Beam Computerized Tomography: Provides a 3D display to better inspect the spacing of teeth and bones.
  • Bitewing: An x-ray film is placed between the teeth to visualize the crowns of the upper and lower teeth.
  • Periapical: Used to see the entire tooth and the surrounding bone.
  • Panoramic: Gives the dentist a broad view of the entire mouth.
  • Occlusal: Aids in evaluating how the upper teeth and corresponding lower teeth fit together when your jaw is closed.


What can I expect during a dental cleaning?

Dental cleanings are an opportunity for your dental hygienist to remove any tartar and plaque build up. Plague is the leading cause of tooth decay due to its acidic nature. It can eat away at the tooth’s enamel and cause cavities to form. If the plaque and cavities go untreated, the plague can travel down to the bone of the tooth and cause it to loosen and fall out. If you are a consistent coffee, black tea or red wine drinker, regular cleanings can also help to reduce the amount of staining that such beverages can cause.


Will I receive an oral cancer screening?

Typically, during the dental cleaning you will also go through an oral cancer screening. There are two steps to the oral cancer screening. The first step is conducted by the dentist feeling the soft spots of your throat, neck and lymph nodes for any abnormalities. The second step uses a technology called a VELscope. A VELscope is a blue light that is shone into your mouth and illuminates any unhealthy tissues.


What is a dental health plan and do I need one?

A thorough dental exam is the gateway to a healthy smile. After a thorough examination, you and your dentist will design a treatment plan to address any issues that may have been found. Perhaps you may need a couple of cavities filled or a bridge repaired. A patient can only withstand so much dental work in one appointment. Making a plan to establish a timeline for repairs, treatments and regular cleanings you are putting your health first and possibly prolonging your life. 

Yuping Li
Yuping Li