After the cleaning, flossing, polishing, poking and prodding, you’re whisked away from the dental chair with a clean bill of oral health. In six more months, you’ll be back for another checkup. But wait, what just happened? It’s that easy?
Despite the ease of a straightforward appointment, a lot happens at your dental checkup — some of which you may never know. That’s because your dental hygienist and dentist are doing more than you’re made aware of at the time. Much of it has to do with identifying warning signs and red flags through observation — and unless something sparks notice, no mention is necessary.
So, what exactly are they doing besides cleaning and poking?
Smelling Your Breath
Did you know 30% of the U.S. population complains of some sort of bad breath? Also called halitosis, bad breath is common and usually nothing to worry about. Sometimes, however, foul-smelling breath can signal poor oral health.
Bad breath is caused by bacteria on the teeth, gums, and tongue. Usually halitosis is attributed to one of the following:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Gum diseases such as gingivitis and periodontitis
- Dry mouth
Health conditions like diabetes, advanced liver or kidney disease, tonsillitis, respiratory infections, and some gastrointestinal diseases can also cause halitosis. If a dentist detects bad breath during your appointment, he or she can properly determine the cause and, if needed, recommend the necessary treatment.
Polishing for Prevention
As the dental hygienist finishes up your cleaning, they polish each tooth. Many patients assume the polishing is for a glistening shine, but it’s actually much more than that. Since polishing gives your teeth a smooth surface, it helps prevent plaque accumulation after you leave your appointment. Your hygienist is giving you a headstart on your oral health over the next six months.
Checking for Cancer
Your dentist probably won’t mention it, but every time they take a peek inside your month, they also check for signs of oral cancer. It’s a visual screening that happens as they check for cavities and other routine observations. Your dentist looks for abnormalities inside the mouth and on the tongue — after all, he or she knows the functions and appearances of the teeth and gums best.
Ensuring Tongue Health
Yes, your dentist’s primary focus is on your teeth and gums. But did you know they also examine your tongue? Size, shape, color and texture all point to a healthy (or unhealthy) tongue, which can further point to oral health. For example, a tongue with a white coating is a sign of dry mouth or poor oral hygiene. A pale tongue can indicate low iron levels (anemia). Your dentist will observe any potential warning signs and mention them if he/she feels the need to alert you.
Examining Your Tonsils
Just like the tongue, the size, shape and overall appearance of your tonsils can tell a lot about your oral health. As your dentist is checking inside your mouth, he or she will glance at the tonsils to take note of any abnormalities. Is there swelling? If so, it could be a sign of infection. In the same way, your dentist can easily see if your throat appears swollen or red, in which case you may need further treatment from your primary care physician.
Grading Your Salivary Glands
Every person needs saliva to keep their mouths healthy. The salivary glands are responsible for producing enough fluids to coat the tongue, gums and teeth, prevent dry mouth, and wash away bacteria. As your dentist examines your mouth, he or she will also check to make sure your salivary glands are functioning properly.
This one you might already know — but do you know exactly what a dentist looks for when they check your teeth for cavities? At first, they look for severe discoloration, enamel destruction, or holes in the teeth. If they can clearly see these signs, you’re probably in pain and already know something is wrong with your tooth.
If the dentist can’t see visual signs of cavities, they use a dental probe to poke the crevices of the teeth. If the probe sinks into a tiny hole in the tooth where enamel has been breached, your dentist will know there is a cavity.
After a dental hygienist has finished your cleaning and the dentist examines your mouth, there’s much more happening than a quick peek. Your dentist is ensuring your entire mouth — teeth, gums, tongue, tonsils and salivary glands — are healthy. That’s why any exam that ends with a clean bill of oral health is a successful one.
Family Dentistry and Emergency Dentistry in Columbus Ohio
We are proud to offer family dentistry and emergency dentistry to our patients in Central Ohio. Call us for your routine dental checkup. Contact us today to learn more!
Remember: The above information is to be used as general guidelines and you should not use this information to diagnose yourself. If you are concerned about your teeth, you should contact our Clintonville, Ohio dentists for a thorough dental exam.