Written by: Dr. Liz Worndl
A dental checkup is an essential part of maintaining proper oral hygiene, which is an important factor in your overall health. A dental visit consists of two parts: an examination from your dentist, and a professional cleaning. Your dentist will perform a comprehensive examination of the oral cavity, first looking at all of the soft tissues in the mouth, throat, tongue, and neck region to check for abnormalities, swellings, or possible signs of oral cancer. Your dentist will also examine the surfaces of your teeth for signs of cavities, and observe the gums for signs of inflammation and gum disease. Finally, a professional cleaning includes removing plaque and hardened tartar on tooth surfaces that are difficult to access with a regular toothbrush or floss at home. Accumulation of plaque and tartar on tooth surfaces can contribute to cavities, and buildup below the gumline can cause swelling and lead to gum disease.
Cavities form when the hard surface of the teeth breakdown, or demineralize, due to the acids caused by bacteria in the mouth. These oral bacteria are found in plaque and tartar which adhere to the surfaces of the teeth and feed on sugars. Though some cavities are visible upon clinical examination, many cavities form in between the teeth, and are more easily detected with x-rays. If a cavity is detected, the dentist may treat the cavity by removing it with a handpiece, and filling the space with strong material that should minimize the risk of the cavity growing bigger in the future. Once cavities progress, they may start to cause sensitivity when eating sweets or sipping cold drinks. If cavities are left untreated and continue to grow, they may infect the nerve and vessels in the root of the tooth, and can cause pain requiring treatment with root canal.
Cavities and gum disease are preventable with proper home care, including brushing and flossing, and with professional cleanings to remove hardened tartar on tooth surfaces and below the gumline. Routine dental checkups are an essential component to maintaining proper oral health by identifying any possible signs of cavities, gum disease, or tissue abnormalities, and addressing these signs with the proper treatment.