During a dental exam, the dentist or hygienist will:
- Evaluate your overall health and oral hygiene
- Evaluate your risk of tooth decay, root decay, and gum or bone disease
- Evaluate your need for tooth restoration or tooth replacement
- Check your bite and jaw for problems
- Remove any stains or deposits on your teeth
- Demonstrate proper cleaning techniques for your teeth or dentures
- Assess how much fluoride you're getting through your diet and use of oral hygiene products
- Take dental X-rays or, if necessary, do other diagnostic procedures
During a dental exam, your dentist or hygienist will also ask about any health problems you have or medications you're taking and discuss how they might affect your oral health. If you have diabetes, for example, you're at increased risk of gum disease. Any medication that contributes to dry mouth can increase your risk of tooth decay. If arthritis interferes with your ability to effectively brush your teeth, your dentist or hygienist might show you how to insert the handle of your toothbrush into a rubber ball for easier use -- or recommend using a powered toothbrush.
If you have prosthetic replacements -- such as dentures or bridges -- your dentist or hygienist will examine how well they fit and discuss the need for adjustments.
Dental exams might also include counseling about diet, smoking and other lifestyle factors that can affect oral health.
A dental X-ray allows the dentist to see detailed images of specific sections of your mouth. Traditional X-ray film is developed in a darkroom, but a newer technique allows X-ray images to be sent to a computer and viewed on a screen. Various types of dental X-rays are available, including:
- Bitewing. This type of X-ray allows the dentist to see the crowns of the upper and lower teeth. During a bitewing X-ray, you'll bite down on the X-ray film holder while the X-ray images are being taken.
- Periapical. This type of X-ray allows the dentist to see the entire tooth and the surrounding bone.
- Occlusal. This type of X-ray allows the dentist to see the way the upper teeth and corresponding lower teeth fit together when the jaw is closed.
- Panoramic. This type of X-ray gives the dentist a broad view of the entire mouth.
X-rays aren't typically needed at every dental visit. Radiation exposure from dental X-rays is low -- but talk to your dentist if you're concerned about radiation exposure.
Oral cancer exam
During your dental exam, your dentist or hygienist will look for any signs of oral cancer. He or she will feel the area under your jaw, the sides of your neck, and the insides of your lips and cheeks, as well as examine your tongue and the roof and floor of your mouth.
In some cases, the dentist might recommend making a dental impression of one or both jaws to produce a replica of your teeth and oral tissue. This can help the dentist or hygienist evaluate your bite or make a mouth guard or bleaching trays. The dentist or hygienist will fill horseshoe-shaped trays with a soft, gelatin-like material and place them over your upper or lower teeth. After a few minutes, the trays are removed and used to create a dental cast or replica of your mouth. The dentist might also have you bite down on a soft material to record and evaluate your bite.