Going to your regular dental visits are important. At each visit, various procedures are done to evaluate the health of your teeth, gums, bone, and overall general oral health. First and foremost a review of your general health is taken. Your medical history is updated with current health conditions, medications, and any know allergies that you might have. Surprisingly some medications can affect the mouth and gums. Next, we will perform an intra-oral and extra-oral cancer screening. Here not only do we look at your face, and lips we look at the entire mouth the cheeks, tongue, palate, and floor of the mouth just to name a few. We look for any suspicious areas of concern, such as bumps, lumps, red, or white areas and if anything else is worth note we will refer you accordingly.
After this preliminary exam is done then we concentrate on your teeth, gums, and bone. In order for your dentist and hygienist to properly and thoroughly check your mouth and come to an informed diagnosis, a few procedures are performed. The first thing is to just look at the gums and teeth to see if there is anything visually that can be detected. Are there any dark soft spots on the enamel, or roots of your teeth, are the gums smooth, red, and loose or are they pink and firm? The next thing we perform to check the health of the gums and bone is called a periodontal exam. Here we use an instrument called a probe which is segmented in millimeters. We use this to measure the natural space around the teeth and gums. This tells us where your gum tissue attaches to your teeth and where your bone begins. The last procedure that we do that probably tells us the most information is the dental x-rays. Most patients are misinformed, don’t understand why dental x-rays are taken every year, and why they are so important.
First of all dental x-rays are pictures of the teeth, bones, and soft tissues. We use them to help find problems with the teeth, mouth, and jaw. X-ray pictures can also show cavities or soft spots, hidden dental structures (such as wisdom teeth), and bone loss that cannot be seen during a visual examination. Dental X-rays are often done to find these problems early before any symptoms are present. Without this procedure, the dentist cannot make a thorough diagnosis.
For most patients their main concern is, is this radiation harmful. Even though we do use radiation to take x-rays, most offices are now using digital x-rays. Less radiation is needed to produce the same quality image as film and digital X-rays gives approximately 70% less exposure to radiation than conventional X-rays. So what does that mean to you? A set of four bitewing images which is the typical amount taken at your yearly checkup of the back teeth produces about 4 microsieverts of radiation, this is less than half the average daily exposure. Since radiation is naturally created in the environment, it is helpful to compare dental radiation exposure to a day in the sun. Just one intraoral x-ray is equivalent to just 20 minutes of background radiation like sitting at the beach, and a flight from Los Angeles to London is approximately equal to 10 days of natural radiation exposure. We know that dental radiation has always been considered safer than other forms of medical radiation. Always taking extra precautions with lead aprons and only taking the necessary pictures you can always rest assured.
So next time you go in for your annual dental visit don’t limit your doctor to only what he can see visually, this not only restricts his or her diagnosis but also cheats you of a thorough visit. Feel confident that your overall health is our number one concern.