By Max Cook, DDS
Story time––With everything going on over the past year, you’ve forgotten to visit your dentist. You decide it’s time to schedule an appointment. You arrive, check-in, and are ushered back to one of the rooms, where the hygienist greets you.
Everything is going smoothly as the hygienist is cleaning your teeth, then the dentist comes in for the exam. After inspecting every nook and cranny between your teeth, they deliver the news that they have found a cavity. To your surprise, they explain that not only do you have a cavity, it’s one that will require a crown or maybe even a root canal as well. What started as a long-awaited routine appointment has turned into a multiple-visit treatment.
Has this ever happened to you or someone you know? Personally, this is my least favorite way to meet someone like a dentist, only to be superseded by having to tell someone they are going to have to lose a tooth. It puts a real rain cloud over the visit, if you know what I mean. So how can something like this be prevented? How can we minimize a possibility like this?
Well, I’m not sure if you caught it, but the very first sentence of the scenario mentioned above is what laid the groundwork for the surprise our friend was struck with. This individual scheduled––or rather didn’t schedule––their interpretation of when they needed a checkup rather than sticking with a regular routine recommended by their dentist.
Given there are no high-risk factors, the American Dental Association recommends visiting your dentist every six months. For patients that present more risk, this interval is sometimes lowered to three months. This is essential, as it allows the dentist to regularly assess tooth and gum health and catch any issues before they develop into more severe problems. At these visits, the doctor and hygienist are working together to accomplish two things primarily:
- Oral Prophylaxis (Cleaning)
Working together, both the hygienist and dentist are looking out for your health during your visit. During the cleaning, the hygienist removes tartar and buildup from plaque that may have accumulated in hard-to-reach areas since your last visit. During exams, the dentist will assess the oral cavity and surrounding areas for any potential problems. This is typically accomplished through visual inspection and assessment of current and past radiographs. Your dentist is not just looking at the teeth but also is screening for other vital issues such as problems with the jaw, periodontal disease, and even oral cancer.
By coming every six months, this allows any issue to be diagnosed and be treated early, increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome. If a successful outcome isn’t enough, I should also mention that catching a problem while it is small usually costs less to fix than a more significant issue.
The example I typically use to illustrate this is periodic oil changes on your vehicle. By regularly changing the oil in your car, you ensure the car has what it needs to function properly and you minimize the likelihood of damage to your engine. If you neglect this fundamental area of maintenance to your car, what do you think the odds are that you are going to have an issue with your engine down the line? Do you think it might be an expensive issue? If our friend had kept up with regular dental appointments, their issue could have been fixed with a simple filling long before it progressed to a costly situation.
Although the dentist and hygienist have committed their careers to protecting patients’ oral health, there is another essential part of what translates to your success, and that is YOU. Your dentist and hygienist want to help you feel confident about your oral health so you don’t run into such surprises, but they can’t do this if you do not prioritize regular appointments. Many offices have in-office membership plans that help set you up on a schedule that will accomplish routine care throughout the year. If it has been a while, take charge of your situation and help your dentist help you by scheduling a visit.