The dental assistant will first have a conversation with you about any questions or concerns. Usually they set out a tray of dental instruments and evaluate your mouth for oral health. This step includes examining your teeth and gums, probing your gums with a metal tool to check for pockets or gaps that signal potential gum disease, cleaning and, finally, polishing and flossing your teeth.
Throughout the process, you’ll be holding your mouth open for quite a while. If your jaw gets tired or starts to hurt, let the dental assistant know you need a rest break. Any dental X-rays are developed, then the dentist will come in to do a thorough oral exam and discuss any notes from the dental assistant. The exam may include assessing your bite, evaluating your teeth for potential restoration or replacement, and reviewing the X-rays for signs of tooth decay or other issues.
The dentist may also conduct a screening for oral cancer, which would likely include feeling around your jaw and neck, and inspecting your lips, cheeks, tongue, and the roof and floor of your mouth. This is an important step, as the American Cancer Society estimated that more than 54,000 people will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer in the United States this year.
Your dentist will let you know if you should schedule any follow-up dental treatments or procedures and will answer any questions you have about the exam or your oral health. The dentist or dental assistant may also initiate therapies and may discuss a tooth-healthy diet and lifestyle adjustments that could improve your oral health.
If dental X-rays are needed, your dental assistant will handle this task, too. If you’re a new patient to this dental office or haven’t seen a dentist in a year or two, chances are dental X-rays will be recommended. In general, dentists suggest them every one to two years but you may need them more often depending on your oral health — for instance, if you have a history of tooth decay or other high-risk factors, such as gum disease or dry mouth.
Dental X-rays give your dentist a more complete look at your teeth, gums and supporting bone structures and can show decay or abscesses, bone loss or bone changes. They can also provide an early warning of potentially serious dental problems, giving your dentist a chance to catch them while treatment may be easier, more effective and possibly less expensive.
Your overall health is important to us, therefore, dental X-rays give off a low level of radiation, in which you’ll be covered with a protective lead apron while they’re taken.