If you are new patient, your dentist may do a brief initial exam to determine any obvious problems and then turn you over to a dental hygienist for a professional cleaning.
If you have pain or an immediate problem, your dentist may deal with these issues first, before doing the cleaning. The course and order of treatment depends on the state of your dental health.
The initial exam will involve a thorough inspection of your mouth, tongue and teeth. Your dentist may order a set of dental x-rays.
These x-rays can spot decay or other trouble areas that may not be obvious with a surface examination. Decay between teeth or around an old filling can be hard to spot without x-rays.
Your dentist will also look for any signs of gum disease, oral cancer or other health problems with your tongue and mouth. How your jaws are aligned and whether your bite is correct (no over-bite or under-bite) are also parts of many initial exams.
A dental professional will take a complete dental and medical history before the exam and any significant findings discussed. For example, some medications and chronic diseases can affect your dental health. Your dentist will want to know all of the medications you take.
If you have cavities, gum disease or other problems, your dentist will discuss the next steps and explain what work needs to be done and what your options are.
Dental hygienists perform professional cleanings and help patients learn proper brushing and flossing techniques as well as other dental health tips.
It is natural to feel some anxiety about dental exams, especially if this is your first or you haven't seen a dentist in some time. Dentists and other dental professionals use modern instruments and medications to keep discomfort to a minimum.
See a professional
Don't let anxiety about a dental exam keep you from seeing a dental health professional. Many dental problems are simple and inexpensive to treat if caught in the early stages.
Without timely treatment, a small cavity can become a big problem.
In many cases, your dentist will recommend you come in for a checkup every six months after the initial problems are repaired. Depending on the severity of your dental health problems, your dentist may recommend more frequent checkups and/or cleanings.
Limiting sugary treats and following good dental hygiene habits (brush twice and floss daily) helps keep future problems to a minimum.