What is it?
The dental examination shows how healthy your mouth is. After the examination, you and your dentist can discuss the findings and plan together how best to deal with any problems.
What does the dentist do?
As well as looking in your mouth the dentist will ask questions - for example these might include:
- Why you've come for an examination;
- Any problems you've noticed (such as pain or sensitivity);
- Your general health and any medicines you might be taking (because these can affect your dental care);
- Your diet (because sugary snacks and drinks can cause tooth decay);
- How you clean your teeth (because correct cleaning helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease);
- Smoking and drinking (because both can harm your mouth).
The questions will depend on what is seen in your mouth. Expect your dentist to:
- Look at your face and neck to see that they are healthy;
- Feel under your jaw;
- Look inside your mouth, at your tongue, your cheeks and lips, the roof of your mouth and the back of your throat - places where there might be a problem, that you can't see or feel;
- Look at your teeth and gums to see that they are healthy or whether there are signs of decay, damage or gum disease. For children your dentist will also look at tooth and jaw development in case orthodontic treatment might be needed now or later;
- Compare your mouth now with how it was when you were last seen;
- Decide whether more information is needed - from x-rays, or from plaster models showing how your teeth bite together, for example;
- Tell you about any treatment needed, explaining the choices and whether there will be any cost.
The examination may take longer if you are seeing a new dentist for the first time.
What are the benefits?
- Regular examinations mean problems can be spotted and corrected early before treatment becomes compicated;
- A thorough examination helps you and the dentist to look after your mouth and prevent future problems. The dentist will explain the options and then you can decide together what will be best for you.
What are they?
X-rays show what is happening inside and around the tooth and its roots - any decay or gum disease, bone loss, and, in children, how the jaw is growing too.
There are two types of x-ray commonly used. A “bitewing” x-ray is gripped between your teeth and shows the areas in between the teeth but not the roots. A “periapical” x-ray is placed next to the tooth and shows the whole of the tooth and its root.
There are also large x-rays which show all of the jaw and teeth - these are called panoramic x-rays and the x-ray machine moves around your head while you stand still.
X-rays can be taken by trained members of the dentist's staff, and not just by the dentist. Training ensures safety as well as x-rays that are clear to read. All x-rays taken for health reasons entail a small radiation risk but the dental x-ray radiation dose is very low. If you are concerned about safety it may be helpful to know that:
- Your dentist will only take x-rays if they are needed;
- X-ray machines are checked regularly to ensure that they are using only the intended radiation dose;
- There is no reason not to use dental x-rays during pregnancy (though you might still be asked whether you are pregnant or whether you might be, and whether you would rather not have an x-ray).
When the x-ray is taken:
- You will need to keep very still for a few seconds to give a clear picture;
- The film is usually developed while you wait and then labelled;
- Sometimes it is useful for the dentist to compare a new x-ray with one taken some time ago. Your dentist will keep old x-rays in your file.
What are the benefits?
- All forms of dental treatment rely on dental x-rays. Simply looking in your mouth cannot give the dentist as much information;
- X-rays allow old treatment to be reviewed as well as new problems to be identified.