Going to the dentist isn’t everyone’s favorite way to spend an hour or so, but it’s a vital part of maintaining oral health at any stage of life. Many of us often wonder how often you should go to the dentist for a checkup or exam, and how frequently you should schedule your appointments. There are two answers to this question: a general answer, which applies to most people; and answers for folks in special situations. Let’s take a look at both.
Most of us need to visit the dentist at least twice a year for an exam and cleaning. For decades, the model was a once-a-year dental checkup, but research has shown that visiting the dentist at least every six months leads to better outcomes for the patient. This has to do with what happens during a dental exam. In a typical dental exam, your dentist will perform a number of checks and tests to evaluate many different aspects of your oral health. They may take some x-rays or other images in order to evaluate the condition of your teeth and jawbone. Your dentist will always check for cavities, plaque buildup, and signs of gum disease like gingivitis. In addition to these dental issues, your dentist may check for any signs of oral cancer. For many oral cancer patients, a dentist or a dental hygienist was the first to notice something was wrong. Following this evaluation of your oral health, your dentist may conduct a cleaning, which helps keep your teeth healthy and prevents further problems from developing. So unless there’s a reason to do otherwise, visiting your dentist at least twice a year should suffice.
While a visit to the dentist every six months is good for most people, there are some patients who need to be seen more often. These are members of high-risk groups, who for various reasons have a stronger chance of running into oral health issues. Such groups include the following:
- Pregnant women should be seen more often by a dentist, in addition to the other medical care they should get during pregnancy. The process of carrying a baby to term brings a lot of changes to the body and can have an impact on the patient’s oral health. More frequent trips to the dentist can ensure that your teeth stay healthy as you prepare for your little one’s arrival.
- Patients dealing with diabetes should also see their dentist more frequently. The blood sugar issues involved with diabetes can lead to oral health issues, including cavities and gum infections, which may result in tooth loss if left untreated.
- Likewise, patients with weakened immune systems should see the dentist more frequently, as their conditions leave them at risk of gum infections or worse. Regular visits, exams, and cleanings can help prevent damage from occurring.
- Smokers and other tobacco users need to be seen more frequently, as tobacco use can have serious oral health implications. Smokers and other tobacco users are more vulnerable to a host of oral health problems. The safest thing to do is to give up tobacco entirely, but in the meantime, more frequent trips will have to do.
- There are too many to list here, but there are a number of health conditions and diseases that place your oral health at risk. Lyme disease, some sleep disorders, and other conditions may necessitate more frequent trips to the dentist.
In between trips to the dentist, the best way for all of us to maintain our oral health is by brushing and flossing routinely and effectively, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding excess sugar or starches while avoiding alcohol and tobacco. With a little care and regular visits to the dentist, your smile can provide a lifetime of service.