Many patients are curious about what dentists are looking for at check ups. The patient experience involves the dentist coming into the room and saying hello. He often will ask how things are going and catch up with you. Importantly, he will review your records and make sure you have received treatment in areas of previous concern. Additionally, asking about any problems relating to your teeth or overall health gives clues as to what area of your mouth is of the utmost importance.
After getting acquainted with your medical history, past dental history, and your chief complaint–that is your reason for today’s visit–your highly trained dentist will begin his examination. Most often this will begin with a thorough head and neck examination. The doctor is feeling for lumps and bumps that raise concern. Also, he is checking for melanomas and other cancers. Even though the head and neck examination can be performed quickly, it takes experience and skill to ensure no abnormalities are present.
The next phase of a routine exam includes screening your tempormandibular joint (TMJ). It is common for the dentist to locate your disc and palpate it while you move your jaw through a series of movements. Some dentists employ advanced devices to measure the health of your joint when indicated. Discussions about headaches, muscle pain, difficulty opening, and clicking or popping of the TMJ are relevant to a comprehensive exam. Additionally, evaluating the muscles that allow us to eat, speak and smile is a vital part of this exam.
At this point, the exam becomes an intraoral exam, that is inside the mouth. Checking for lumps and bumps is vitally important. Head and neck cancers are more common than other well known cancers such as cervical cancer, so this screening is important for everyone to have. Specific spots that are notorious are the floor of the mouth and the tongue. Squamous cell carcinomas tend to be found here. Questions related to tobacco use and alcohol are important because the tongue is so vascularized. Additionally, many common diseases can be first identified in the oral cavity before they show signs of disease to medical doctors. For instance, the tongue is often an indication of anemia and vitamin deficiencies.
After performing these tests, the dentist begins to evaluate your teeth. Tooth loss is due to a variety of factors, but most commonly due to bacterial decay. The dentist will thoroughly evaluate the deep grooves of teeth with visual microscopy, fluorescence, tactile sensation, and the use of lasers. Tooth loss also occurs to acid erosion. Dentists are often the referral source for acid reflux disease. Acid ingested from soft drinks and Gatorade can have devastating effects on a person’s mouth. In addition, some cavities are formed by biting forces, tooth brushing forces or the abrasiveness of certain habits. All of these areas are important to address and spend time discussing with your qualified dentist.
In addition to checking for cavities in these ways, radiographs or X-rays are important to seeing teeth. Many cavities cannot be seen without X-rays. X-ray exposure is very low and equivalent to less than 1 day of being outside. The limited and seemingly harmless effects of X-rays are a necessity to ensure your teeth and gums are healthy. Additionally, your doctor might prescribe a few other X-rays that can image your TMJ, your skeleton or your soft tissues.
The dentist is also very concerned about your gum health. The gums are a hot topic of research currently. The link between gum health and overall health has been shown to be important. The gums are often inflamed and this has an effect on important organs of your body like your heart, kidneys and blood system. One study found that those who floss on average live 7 years longer than those who do not floss. Most commonly, your dentist will check problem areas by measuring pocket depth. Additionally, careful examination of the color and consistency of your gums can signal disease processes.
Your dentist accomplishes all of these tasks in an efficient manner without raising undue alarm. It is amazing that the dentist is able to screen for the variety of diseases encountered on a daily basis. The dentist will evaluate your bite and your smile. The patient will evaluate if tooth whitening would be helpful for your. Additionally, the dentist will consider recommending braces to you or veneers. Sometimes crowns are needed to give you the smile you want.
If nothing else, the dentist behind that mask is giving your health the full attention it deserves.
Alex Krempa, D.M.D.
6350 Airport Blvd.
Mobile, Alabama 36608