What is the dentist even doing? Why are those tools so sharp? How come they can’t just glue something in there and let me leave? The dental appointment can be a mystery to patients, but getting an understanding of what’s really going on can help you feel more in control of your oral health!

What can I expect at a dental appointment?

The dentist will start off by reviewing your medical history. You may be thinking – why does my dentist need to ask such personal questions? Tell me to floss and let me go!

The reason the dentist needs to ask probing questions about your health is because your systemic conditions can affect your oral health.

  • Have diabetes? The dentist must keep an eye out for periodontal disease.
  • High blood pressure? Maybe we’ll give you a different kind of anesthetic.
  • Acid reflux? Let’s go heavy on the fluoride so we don’t wear away that enamel.

Systemic diseases can show early symptoms in the oral cavity. Early detection for these conditions is crucial because many patients end up seeing their general dentist more often than they see their primary care physicians.

Your health history along with the medications you take can tell the dentist how to deliver the best treatment tailored to you and your needs. Remember that your dentist is not just treating a tooth in your mouth, but you as a whole patient!

Taking X-rays

People are always wary of taking x-rays because of the radiation but radiation is all around us! A full set of x-rays has less radiation than a flight from New York to California. Guidelines are set by the American Dental Association that recommend certain x-rays be taken once a year to keep dentists updated about changes in your mouth. This can play a significant role in helping to prevent the progression of a disease.

For example, if decay can be detected while it is still in the enamel or dentin then it can be restored with just a filling. That same cavity, if left untreated, can progress to the nerve tissue and would then require more aggressive treatment, like a root canal. X-rays give dentists more information than what they can see when they look inside your mouth. X-rays can inform dentists about the decay between teeth (where they cannot see in your mouth), the loss of bone, or the presence of irregularities, and ultimately aid in giving your dentists the “big picture” about you as a patient.

Oral Cancer Screening

Dentists palpate nodes along the neck, shoulder, and the side of your head to screen for oral cancers.

Soft Tissue Exam

Dentist check gums, cheeks, lips, tongue and the floor of the mouth for abnormalities such as cancer, HPV, herpes or other lesions. A careful soft tissue exam can also tell your dentist about your habits such as cheek or lip biting.

Examining Your Teeth

Dentists run instruments along the surface of teeth to make sure there is no soft spots or decay and make sure there is nice solid tooth structure. They check the way your teeth touch together and if your teeth show any signs of grinding, clenching or brushing too hard.

Putting Together a Treatment Plan

It might seem overwhelming if you’ve got a handful of things to get taken care of at the dental office, but it’s important to remember that this Treatment Plan is your plan of receiving treatment for the year until your next check-up.

Ask your dentist about quadrant dentistry – it’s when the mouth is divided into four separate sections so that treatment is given for each section at a time. Quadrant dentistry makes a lot of sense because it means teeth that are close to each other are treated and anesthetized at the same visit, reducing the number of appointments and shots. It also means that you won’t have to walk out of the appointment with your entire mouth numb at the same time.

P.S. If you don’t enjoy being numb for long periods of time – exercise or caffeine both act to help your body remove the anesthetic out of your system so that you can go ahead and enjoy the rest of your day!


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