Comprehensive Dental Exam
It is important to protect and maintain the teeth and gums, not only by daily brushing and flossing, but through regular professional care. Periodic dental examinations are the best protection against dental disorders, such as tooth loss and gum disease. A comprehensive dental examination includes a number of evaluative procedures, as well as a thorough dental cleaning and is an essential element of preventive health care.
Medical and Dental History
Before examining a new patient, the dentist takes a full medical and dental history, including information about illnesses, head or dental traumas, tooth loss, previous dental procedures, and medications. Any of these may have bearing on dental health. If the individual being examined is a regular patient, the dentist will request pertinent updates. This information is important to the dentist because chronic illnesses may affect dental health and any medication that results in a dry mouth can increase the patient’s risk of tooth decay.
Evaluation of Oral Health and Hygiene
During a comprehensive dental examination, the dentist assesses oral health and hygiene by checking for:
- Root decay
- Gum or bone disease
- Bite and jaw problems
- Abnormalities of the mouth and neck
- Precise fit of bridges or dentures
- Tooth grinding
A periodontal screening for gum diseases, such as gingivitis and periodontitis, is an integral part of a comprehensive dental exam. After checking the teeth and gums, the dentist may also discuss with the patient the effects of diet, smoking and other lifestyle choices on dental health.
During a dental cleaning, the dentist or dental hygienist mechanically removes tartar and plaque from the surfaces of the teeth using specialize dental tools and water-flossing. This is necessary because tartar and plaque can result in inflammation and gum disease if left untreated. The dental cleaning ends with a careful polishing.
The professional cleaning is much more thorough than the daily dental hygiene regimen patients are able to maintain at home and ends with a stronger polishing of the teeth than home care can provide. Typically, methods of improving oral hygiene are discussed after a dental cleaning.
Dental X-rays are used to evaluate dental conditions including cavities and changes in bone density. Types of X-rays, including some combination of the following, may be taken:
- Cone beam CT scan
X-rays may not be needed at every dental visit, particularly if the patient’s routine check-ups are frequent.
Oral Cancer Screening
A necessary component of a comprehensive dental examination is a screening for oral cancer, a disease for which the dentist is often the first line of defense. The dentist looks for any abnormal lesions, lumps, or textural changes that may be the first signs of a malignancy. These signs include:
- Red or white patches in the mouth
- Sores that do not heal or bleed easily
- Thickening of skin or mucosa
- Swelling under the jaw or on the neck
An oral cancer screening involves a close examination of the tongue, lips, inner cheeks, upper and lower palates, as well as the outer cheeks, jaw, and neck.
Recommendations for Dental Care
Part of a comprehensive dental examination involves recommendations for future dental care. The dentist may inform the patient that a filling, root canal, capping or other procedure is needed, or may advise fluoride treatments or the application of a sealant at a scheduled visit in the future. The dentist may also recommend follow-up with a specialist such as an orthodontist or a periodontist.
The frequency of comprehensive dental examinations should, according to the American Dental Association, be determined by the dentist who has examined the patient and is aware of individual conditions. Typically, patients see their dentists annually or semi-annually. In order to maintain oral health, comprehensive dental examinations are necessary even for patients who no longer have natural teeth.