Why Do I Need Annual Dental Exams?

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Written and Medically Reviewed by

Medically Reviewed

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by experts. Dr. Daniel Cho strives to provide unbiased and honest feedback regarding dental topics. This article contains scientific references. The numbers in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.

An annual dental check-up lets your dentist see if you have any dental issues so they can keep your mouth healthy. Not attending your annual dental exam and leaving problems untreated can mean issues become more difficult to treat in the future.

Your annual dental exam is a chance for your dentist to deal with problems early on — or even prevent them entirely.

What’s Covered In a Routine Dental Exam?

Procedures can vary between dentists. Some will have hygienists clean your teeth, whereas your first visit will see a full history check. During your routine dental exam, expect the dentist to:

  • Examine the head and neck including the TMJ, neck, lips, gums, tongue, cheek and of course the teeth.
  • Discuss your general health and any issues you’ve had with your mouth, teeth or gums since your last visit.
  • Ask for information and offer advice on your habits, such as diet, smoking and teeth cleaning.
  • Arrange a follow-up dental checkup.

What’s Involved With a Head and Neck Exam?

Dentists conduct a head and neck exam to check for any risks of oral cancer or other abnormalities. During your visit, your dentist will check your head, jaw and neck for any issues. This includes lumps, bumps, bruises, color changes and lesions. Sometimes a panoramic x-ray is taken which can show things such as carotid calcifications or Eagle’s syndrome. Don’t worry — this painless procedure offers peace of mind.

What Does a Dentist Look For?

Your dentist checks for gum disease and cavities during your dental exam. This is so they can treat these issues before they cause more damage. They’ll check if you have any oral health problems or are at risk of developing them. As mentioned above, they’ll also conduct head and neck exams.

Dentists will sometimes obtain x-rays to check for things the naked eye cannot see and even offer cosmetic improvement advice. Additionally you may be asked questions regarding your quality of sleep to see if that can be improved. There is a huge amount of undiagnosed sleep breathing disorders amongst Americans and likely the world. Better quality sleep flat out means better quality and potentially longer life. 

What Could Happen if You Don’t Get an Annual Dental Exam?

It depends on the condition of your teeth, mouth and gums. If you put it off for too long, you increase your risk of:

  • Suffering from gum disease or gingivitis.
  • Missing signs of oral cancer or other serious abnormalities in the head and neck.
  • Have stains, tartar and plaque on your teeth.
  • Lose teeth due to tooth decay.
  • Face bigger medical bills for dental procedures in the future.

Dental Association Recommendations

Many people think they should visit their dentist once a year. In fact, dental associations such as the ADA say adults and children should go for a dental check-up once every six months.

However, there isn’t an absolute rule for how often one needs to get a checkup. While most people need a checkup twice a year, there are some people with little needs that only need to go yearly.. It’s best to listen to your dentist and to use your judgment. If your dentist says our oral health is in great condition, then once a year may be fine. But if you have lots of dental issues, are in pain and have had procedures, then visiting once every six months is worthwhile.

Annual Dental Exams for Children

What about if you have a child? If it’s their first dental exam, arrange it for when they’re one years old or within the first six months of their first tooth. Again, don’t wait too long to see your dentist if they have oral issues as they can compound into bigger problems if left untreated.

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