You know you should visit the dentist regularly for good oral health, but what does “regularly” actually mean? If your schedule gets away from you, you might think you can skip a visit and be fine. But will you? Let’s look at general visit guidelines for a healthy mouth and the circumstances under which you need to beef-up your routine.
Why Do We Have to Visit the Dentist?
If you have a great at-home routine of brushing and flossing, you might question why you have to make regular trips to the dentist at all. The truth is, as diligent as you are, plaque and tartar are building up on your teeth and at your gum line right this second. You can’t see the buildup, but it’s there. Plaque attracts bacteria which will eventually lead to gum disease and could result in tooth loss.
Skipping the dentist may mean a lost opportunity to catch an issue early before it becomes a painful and expensive problem. Knowing you have a tiny cavity and addressing it on the spot is much better than ending up with an abscess that requires a root canal.
You don’t have a great dental routine unless you’re visiting your dentist regularly.
The General Rule
Believe it or not, there is no standard rule provided by Australia or the World Health Organization for how often you should go to the dentsit. There are general guidelines for a child's first visit to the dentist. Kids should see a dentist as soon as you can see their first tooth or by their first birthday.
This gets kids in a healthy habit of going to the dentist and keeping their teeth and gums in great shape. Staying on top of your child’s dental visits can prevent serious issues requiring extensive work that could contribute to dental anxiety later in life—a very real issue. After their initial visit, kids should see a dentist no less than twice a year or at the recommendation of your family dentist.
Let’s assume an adult has great oral health with no serious issues, the rule of thumb for them is also twice a year, though some dentists may only suggest yearly visits. Your dentist knows your mouth best, so take their word for it and show up as requested.
What Happens During Visits?
If you have an established relationship with your dentist’s office, a typical, bi-annual visit will start with a check-up and end with a dental clean. Initial visits have a few extra components.
If you’ve not been to this dentist before or it’s been a while since your last visit, your dentist may order x-rays to get a baseline understanding of your oral health. X-rays give your dentist a good picture of your jaw alignment, decay between teeth and allow them to see impacted teeth, abscesses or other root issues. If problems are identified, your dentist then decides whether to tackle that first or go on to the rest of the visit and schedule another visit to address the issue.
Your dental hygienist will check for cavities and the amount of plaque that’s accumulated on your teeth. They’ll then check your gums, measuring the space between your teeth and gums. Shallow spaces indicate healthier gums; deeper spaces often suggest progressing gum disease. They also check your tongue, throat, neck and face, looking for swelling or any other abnormalities that may signal oral cancer.
Scale & Polish
Plaque and tartar need to be removed with each regular visit. Your hygienist uses special instruments to clean both above and below the gum line. Once all the surfaces are smooth and clean, they are polished to remove stains and leave your teeth shiny.
Your hygienist can also recommend better at-home care or new products to make your oral health routine more effective.
When Do I Need More Visits?
There are certain circumstances that make visiting the dentist more often a necessity. Only your dentist can determine if you need to increase your number of regular visits. Let your dentist know if:
- You are pregnant: hormones can sometimes cause inflammation of the gums.
- You smoke or use tobacco: this increases your risk of gum disease and oral cancer.
- You have diabetes: people with diabetes have a much higher risk of gum disease, infections and other oral issues.
- You have heart disease: dental health may be related to heart health, so regular visits might reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack.
- You’re in cancer treatment: some treatments can cause constant dry mouth and infection.
When to Call Your Dentist In Between Visits
Some situations warrant at least a call to your dentist and you shouldn't wait for your next appointment. Reach out right away if you're experiencing any of the following:
- Ongoing or worsening tooth or gum pain
- Red, swollen or bleeding gums
- A mouth sore that doesn’t heal
- Sudden sensitivity to hot, cold or pressure
- Old dental work loosening, malfunctioning or failing
- A chipped or cracked tooth
- Sudden pain and/or clicking in your jaw
If you wait to tell your dentist about any problems you’re having, you can make things worse.
Prevention is always the best medicine. Maintain your great at-home routines and keep every dental appointment you make. If you keep to a routine of regular visits, your smile can remain healthy and dazzling for a lifetime.