Are you unsure of what to expect during your regular dental exam? Are you wondering how often you need a dental checkup? What’s the difference between hygiene appointments and an oral exam? What is my dentist looking for? Here are the answers you want to know about an appointment with your dentist!

How often should I see the dentist

Your recommended dental visits’ frequency will depend on a host of factors, including age, pregnancy, medical health/susceptibility and your own smile goals. 

If you need restorative dentistry or orthodontic treatment, have periodontal disease, are pregnant, or have worsening health conditions, you may need to see your dentist more often. 

Additionally, if you have a lot of tartar buildup, you might need to see your hygienist more frequently; for many patients, 2-4 visits per year are recommended.

Dental History

At each appointment, your dentist will make sure they are up to date with your current health condition. 

Make sure to let your dentist know about any changes in your medical history, including pregnancy, new medications or new or worsening conditions. These can all impact your oral health.

Don’t forget to ask your dentist questions! This time is about you, so make sure you ask your dentist about any oral health concerns, sleep concerns and cosmetic preferences. 


Dental Exam

A dental exam includes much more than just a look at your teeth!

A physical exam of your neck and jaw will be done to check for abnormalities and symptoms related to oral cancer, TMD (temporal mandibular joint disorders) or a host of other conditions that affect oral health. 

Your dentists will palpate your neck and jaw muscles and bones to check for lumps, clicks and tenderness. 

As well, your dentist will perform an oral cancer screening inside your mouth. 

Finally, your dentist will look at your pearly whites, but have you ever been curious about what they are looking for? 

Your dentist will check for wear patterns on your teeth. Wear patterns in teeth can indicate clenching or grinding and glean some information about your diet’s acidity. 

The dentist will also look at the health of your gums and check for recession. 

Armed with all this information, then your dentist will determine what x-ray photographs they need. 


Dental X-rays

Dental X-rays, or digital radiographs, are essential for your dentist to see minor dental issues, like tooth decay, before they become painful dental infections. 

Many dental issues don’t appear to the naked eye until they have already become detrimental to the tooth structure. 

While your dentist is examining your mouth, they will ask the assistant to take the x-rays they need. 

The common X-rays your dentist will ask for are:

  • Bitewing – a bitewing x-ray, honest in its namesake, will have you bite down on a piece of plastic. The assistant will take a side profile of your molars and premolars from the chewing surface to the root. These images will help the dentists see the bone level between your teeth to assess periodontal disease and check for cavities between the teeth. 
  • Periapical – this type of x-ray takes a closer look at one or two teeth to examine the bone and surrounding tissues. The dentist can also use these x-rays to look for cysts, bone tumours, and abscesses.
  • Panoramic – this 2 or 3-dimensional photo will let your dentist see your entire head and neck from any angle. These photos help the dentist look for signs of cancer, check for sinus issues, examine bite and jaw joint health and many other things!

You and your dentist will review your X-rays together. Your dentist will show you what they see, discuss your options and determine a treatment plan that works for you. 

Our goal is that patients leave with a better understanding of their oral health. 


Dental Cleaning

Besides yourself, your dental hygienist is probably the most influential person in your dental health routine. 

While you eat, sleep and drink, the harmful and bad-breath causing bacteria in your mouth are continually reproducing, forming plaque (called biofilm).

After 12 hours or so, you may notice a plaque buildup on your teeth’s surface, creating a sticky, rough texture. 

If left too long, the calcium in your saliva combines with the plaque solidifying it into tartar. 

That is where your hygienist steps in. The removal of dental plaque and calculus buildup is called scaling.  

Your dental hygienist will finish your dental exam by measuring your periodontal pockets. 

Your periodontal pocket is the space created by gum tissue coming unattached from the tooth. 

Healthy gums have unattached gum tissue, but they are shallow enough that yearly hygiene visits, twice a day brushing and flossing once a day can prevent the subgingival buildup of bacteria. 

If the patient neglects oral hygiene, bacteria will collect in this unattached gum tissue, causing inflammation and deepening the pockets.

This inflammation is called Gingivitis and is a mild form of periodontal disease. 

The symptoms can include redness, gum bleeding, pain, gum recession, bone loss and, eventually, tooth loss. 

The Canadian Dental Association has found that 11% of the population suffers from severe periodontal (gum) disease making it the 6th most prevalent disease in the world. 

The good news is that periodontal disease is usually preventable with proper oral habits. 

After your dental hygiene visit, your hygienist will schedule you back for regular visits to ensure that you are getting the optimal care and maintain the health of your gums and mouth. The frequency is customized based on the overall condition of your gums, bone levels, previous history of gum disease and your medical health. If you present with any of the above, we may need to see you more than every six months.  Patients who have bone loss, bleeding gums and or recession generally have to come every 3-4 months in order to decrease the bacterial load and stay one step ahead of the bacteria and prevent more damage. Together, you and your dental hygienist work to fight gum disease.  


Dental Checkup Cost

The Dental Administrator is a crucial part of your dental team. 

They are specially trained to navigate insurance policies, understand dental fees and schedule the treatment plan you and your dentist decided on. 

Long ago, the cost of a dental checkup was confusing, different at each dentist and all-around frustrating for dentists and patients alike.

In 2017, The Alberta Dental Association and College saw the need and came out with their first fee guide since 1997!

This guide sets reasonable pricing for most dental procedures, and lets dentists have the option to follow it.

Since its release, our clinic and many dentists across Alberta have adopted the fee guide.

To learn more about the cost of a dental checkup, check out the 2020 Dental Fee Guide.