The typical dental checkup visit usually includes the following oral healthcare activities:
- Professionals who will treat you: Two oral healthcare professionals - your dentist and the dental hygienist – will likely see you. The hygienist will conduct an initial oral exam of your gums. (Hygienists are not allowed to diagnose tooth or gum problems but can document them.) Hygienists document any changes in your overall health and medicine use, clean and polish your teeth, talk to you about caring for your teeth and gums, and answer any questions you might have about home care products. Your dentist will also conduct an oral exam of your gums and teeth, ask about changes in your overall health or medicine use, review the cleaning done by the hygienist, look for signs of oral cancer and other diseases, diagnose any oral health problems, and make treatment recommendations.
- Cleaning: Although home-based tooth brushing and flossing help remove plaque, only a professional cleaning – provided by your dentist or dental hygienist – can thoroughly clean your teeth and remove the hardened plaque (called calculus or tartar) that builds up on teeth. Most hygienists use a series of metal hand instruments to clean your teeth. Some are using ultrasonic scalers, which provide deep cleaning above and below the gum line.
- Polishing: After your teeth have been cleaned, they are polished to remove plaque and stains on the tooth surface. The polish contains an abrasive substance and fluoride, and is applied using a small rotating rubber cup or brush attached to the dental hand piece.
- Prevention: Your hygienist might offer additional instructions for you to follow at home, based on the results of your exam. Don’t hesitate to ask your hygienist for instructions about brushing or flossing, or general care questions about your teeth and gums.
- X-rays: X-rays may or may not be taken during your checkup. Your dentist will consider your oral exam, dental history, and risk for developing cavities to decide how often you need X-rays.
- Treatment recommendations: If any oral health problems are found during your examination, your dentist will make recommendations for the best next steps. These might include referral to another oral healthcare specialist, additional diagnostic tests, or advice to return for restoration work (for example, fillings and crowns), or additional oral healthcare.