10 Things You Didn’t Know Your Dentist Was Doing at Your Checkup

10 Things You Didn’t Know Your Dentist Was Doing at Your Checkup

by Alex Hirsch (SU)

Most people see the dentist once or twice a year for preventive care, which generally includes a cleaning, dental exam, and X-rays. But, because many months may pass between visits, issues can develop between dental visits. 

Did you know that your dentist is performing many things besides simply checking the condition of your teeth or fixing a cavity? Here are 10 of the most common preventive care tasks your dentist performs that you may be unaware of. 

  1. Smelling Your Breath. Foul or pungent-smelling breath can mean more than halitosis – it can be a warning sign of other health problems. Bad breath may indicate dental issues like infection, cavities, and other perils affecting the mouth, teeth, or tongue. It can also indicate the presence of medical conditions such as respiratory or sinus infections; diabetes; and stomach, liver, or kidney issues.     
  2. Cancer Screening. A dentist will examine many things inside your mouth to check for cancer. Blocked glands, lesions, sores, or oral ulcers that don’t heal are all symptoms of cancer. Even things like improperly fitted fillings, sharp-edged teeth or an ill-fitting mouthguard are cause for concern because they can increase friction in the area and ultimately lead to cancer.
  3. Assessing Gum Health. The condition of your gums can reveal a lot about your overall dental health. Your dentist will look for signs that your gums are receding, inflamed, or loose (such as the presence of deep pockets between a tooth and surrounding gum tissue). Plaque buildup due to poor oral hygiene can negatively affect gum health, as can bone loss. Gingivitis – when the gums are inflamed – is a precursor to periodontal (gum) disease. Your dentist can recommend ways to fight the progression of gum disease.
  4. Looking for Early Signs of Diabetes. Because diabetes can impair the ability of gum tissue to fight infection, the presence of swollen gums, abscesses, or bone loss may indicate diabetes. Identifying gum infection during a dental visit can be extremely valuable as it is an early sign of Type 2 diabetes, and may alert people to the presence of diabetes before they are even aware they have the condition. Patients with diabetes are encouraged to see a dentist much more frequently, like 4 - 6 times a year.
  5. Checking Tooth Enamel. The outermost layer of a tooth, the enamel, is what protects and strengthens the tooth. If tooth enamel is worn away, cracked, or chipped, it can compromise the health of your teeth. Regular teeth grinding, such as when stressed or during sleep, can harm tooth enamel and may require treatment in addition to correcting damage done to your teeth.  
  6. Identifying Problems Under the Enamel. Underneath the tooth enamel is dentin, and inside that is the pulp, which is filled with nerves and blood vessels. Regular dental X-rays can reveal changes in the thickness of tooth enamel, especially if any dentin is exposed, which can cause tooth sensitivity and pain.
  7. Checking the Tongue. Healthy tongues are pink and covered with small bumps for tasting. Discoloration on the tongue can be caused by vitamin deficiencies or far sinister problems such as cancer or AIDS.
  8. Checking the Sinuses. Your dentist may look for signs of sinusitis during your dental exam. This is because the roots of the upper rear teeth are close to the sinuses; inflammation of the sinuses can result in tooth pain, especially among the upper rear teeth.
  9. Assessing Overall Oral Function. Dentists also routinely check the bite, alignment, and strength of your teeth, as well as the quality and amount of bone in the jaw. This can help identify a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problem, which may require orthodontics like braces to rectify the disorder. 
  10. Considering Other Health Issues. During your dental exam, your dentist will compare what he or she is seeing in your mouth with what is known about your overall health. You may be asked to complete a health history form, or your dentist may ask about whether you have certain medical conditions. This allows your dentist to pay close attention to oral disorders you may be particularly susceptible to.   

Make Sure Your Dentist Is Thorough

Most dentists perform these preventive care checks during a dental exam as a matter of personal routine. If your dentist does not seem to be doing these checks or never remarks on anything related to this list, it might be time to find a new dentist. 

Dr. Ari Binder of 360 Dental is extremely thorough and will run through any concerns you have – including everything listed here – at your visit. Get the preventive dental care you deserve by calling (541) 689-1645 to make your appointment today or use the convenient appointment request form.