Comprehensive dental exams not only check for tooth decay and gum health but also examine your entire mouth, head, and neck area. This type of exam is generally given if you are a first-time patient to a new dentist, but should also be given periodically by any dentist you’ve been visiting for years. The comprehensive exam will likely include these evaluations:
- Head and neck: Your dentist will look for any problems on your head and neck, as well as feel for any swelling or tenderness (which are signs of an infection or disease) in your lymph nodes and salivary glands in your neck area. Your dentist will also examine your temporomandibular joint (connects the jawbone to the skull) to make sure it is working properly.
- Soft tissue: The soft tissues of your mouth include the tongue, inside of the lips and cheeks and the floor and roof of the mouth. These areas are examined for any spots, lesions, cuts, swellings or growths. These could indicate an oral health problem. The back of your throat and tonsil area will also be inspected.
- Gum tissue: Your gums and supporting structures of the teeth will be looked at for signs of gum disease, which include red or puffy gum tissue and tissue that easily bleeds when gently probed. If you do have gum disease, your dentist may send you to a periodontist (dental gum specialist).
- Occlusion: How well your upper and lower teeth come together will be checked. Your dentist might simply look at how your teeth meet or have you bite into wax if a more careful exam of your bite is necessary.
- Clinical examination of teeth: Signs of tooth decay are looked for on the surface of every tooth. Your dentist will likely probe your teeth with a dental instrument, called an explorer, to look for cavities. (Decayed enamel feels softer when probed compared to healthy enamel.) Your dentist will also check for any problems with fillings, braces, bridges, dentures, crowns, or other restorations.
- X-rays — Your dentist will assign a certified technician to take X-rays to look for signs of tooth decay, as well as for gum disease and other oral health problems.