DEAR DOCTOR K: I take good care of my teeth, brushing and flossing regularly. Do I still need to have regular dental checkups?
DEAR READER: Even if you brush your teeth three times a day and floss daily, regular checkups with a dental professional are a must. For most people, two checkups per year are enough. That’s what I have.
Professional cleaning rids your teeth of tartar. This thick stuff can build up in places that are hard to reach with a toothbrush. Or in places that are easy to reach with a toothbrush – if you don’t regularly use a toothbrush!
If tartar is not removed, it can lead to cavities and tooth decay. During the cleaning, the dentist or hygienist might use a small metal instrument with a bladelike end to scrape off tartar above and below the gum line. He or she may also use an ultrasonic vibrating device to shake loose plaque and tartar. The dentist or hygienist will polish your teeth with a lightly abrasive paste and finish up with a flossing.
After your teeth are clean, your dentist will examine them, looking for early signs of cavities, gum disease, oral cancer or other dental problems and take appropriate action. He or she will look for signs of decay, using a metal probe and a small mirror with an angled handle. The dentist will check for gum disease by examining your gums for swelling and redness and by measuring the spaces between the teeth and the gums.
Your dentist will test how your upper and lower teeth come together. He or she will look for evidence of tooth grinding, or problems with the joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull. The dentist will also check for signs of infection and oral cancer. Finally, your dentist will look for clues as to whether problems in your mouth are actually symptoms of other diseases in the body.
Virtually everyone who visits the dentist will have X-rays taken at some point, valuable for uncovering problems in places that can’t easily be seen. They can also show wisdom teeth that have failed to come through the gum and bone loss below the gum line.
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