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2:34 AM Fri, Nov. 16th

Demystifying dental exams

Do I need to come every six months?

A check for tooth decay is just one of the exams your dentist performs during your regular dental checkup. (Courtesy)

A check for tooth decay is just one of the exams your dentist performs during your regular dental checkup. (Courtesy)

Occasionally I am asked by a patient, “Do I really need to come in and get an exam and cleaning every six months?” My answer is generally YES for several important reasons. Although there are many people that require a visit more frequently, especially, those with gum disease or persons who tend to build up plaque and calculus more quickly.

Today, I will demystify what the dentist and hygienist should be doing during your regular hygiene visits for the benefit of your oral health. Although hygiene visits seem short to patients, providers are completing various types of exams as well as a cleaning, which are essential to maintain and improve your oral and overall health. Our goal is to assist you in keeping your teeth over your lifetime!

TOOTH DECAY EXAM

Your dentist is looking for the weakening of enamel that results from oral and systemic acid. Acid comes from many sources in the mouth. The more commonly known source is that of the bacteria in your mouth. When a person eats food with sugars, the bacteria in the mouth convert that sugar into an acid and the acid demineralizes the enamel and a cavity is formed. Another potentially damaging source of acid for some patients is for those with gastric disorders, such as, acid reflux, GERD, or with autoimmune disorders and food intolerances, to name a few. When stomach acid enters the mouth during the day or more often at night, it dissolves the enamel resulting in the need for more dental work. The tooth decay exam helps identify where and why tooth decay is occurring to develop a treatment plan to reduce decay. The dentist also utilizes radiographs or X-ray to see cavities forming in between teeth early on.

PERIODONTAL EXAM

We can’t forget your gums! Though they may appear healthy, during the periodontal exam, hygienists manage the health and disease of your periodontium (gums). Through a regular probing exam to determine the degree of gum health by measuring pocket depth, and data collection, we can identify if bone loss is occurring and determine the best plan to proceed with patient care to minimize gum disease and bone loss.

ORAL CANCER EXAM

Any cancer is terrible. However, if caught early through an oral cancer screening, there is a great reduction in the drastic nature of the surgery needed to remove the cancer and subsequent adjunct therapy needed. Interestingly, those who use both tobacco and alcohol are SIX times more likely to have a cancer related issue than those who use just one or the other. Today, as a preventive measure, digital oral cancer screening technology, such as the Velscope (see photo) is available for doctors to help to identify oral mucosa abnormalities early on.

A JOINT/BITE EXAM

During the joint/bite exam, the dentist is looking at the relationship between the way the teeth fit together, the muscles that hold the jaw in place and the Temporal Mandibular Joint (TMJ). Sometimes teeth are misaligned because the person has had a lot of dental work or due to the way the jaw developed or for any number of other reasons. This misalignment can place added stress on the individual teeth, muscles or joint resulting in clenching or grinding or the teeth as the muscles try to realign the teeth in a neutral position relative to the joint and jaw bone. This clenching and grinding can result in premature damage and loss of teeth, as well as, the production of acid, inflammation and related jaw pain or headaches. Examining your jaw, muscles and TMJ and discussing any issues you may be having will help the dentist to identify the cause of your symptoms and develop the next course of treatment.

TEETH CLEANING

The hygienist will remove all plaque, calculus and biofilm that has developed since the last visit. Biofilm is a layer of bacteria that lives in the mouth and likes to adhere to the teeth. In time, biofilm will harden and develop calculus. Once calculus develops, dental hygienists use specific dental tools to remove the calculus. When you rub your tongue across your teeth and it isn’t smooth, there is most likely a buildup of calculus that needs to be removed. The removal of plaque, calculus and biofilm will is the best preventive measure to help to avoid cavities, gum disease and bad breath.

These are just a few of many areas that should be examined and treated during your regular preventive care exams. So when a patient asks if they should spend their time and money on a periodic dental exam and cleaning every six months or more frequently if recommended, my answer is ABSOLUTELY. Additionally, if you, like most people, are trying to keep your healthcare expenses to a minimum, the cost of PREVENTIVE care treatment will be substantially less than the cost of REACTIVE care treatment when a dental emergency, such as a chipped, cracked or lost tooth, locked jaw or migraine headaches occur. In addition to preventive care, we prefer to focus on INTERVENTIVE care which is to address issues before they become larger problems to keep you out of the dental chair and help you to avoid more extensive and costly dental procedures in the future.

Dr. Rick Farnsworth, D.D.S., of Jason C. Campbell, D.D.S. Cosmetic & Family Dentistry will answer your oral health questions. Please email Dr. Farnsworth at jcampbelldds@yahoo.com. You can learn more about his dental practice’s services at www.PrescottDentist.com or call 928-776-1208.