The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that everyone visit the dentist twice per year, or as directed by the dentist, for professional cleanings and dental exams. Yet many people put off seeing the dentist, whether due to finances, scheduling issues, or fear. If you have not seen the dentist in awhile, you might wonder what to expect during your dental exam. Here is what you should know.

Dentist explaining x-ray to patient.

Why Have a Dental Exam?

Regular dental exams are important for both your oral health and your overall health, as untreated dental issues can eventually lead to heart disease and other serious illnesses. Regular dental exams allow you and your dentist to catch any issues early, when they have the best chance for simple yet effective treatment. Even those who wear dentures or have full dental implants need regular dental exams to check their overall oral health and ensure that the replacement teeth still look and function their best.

How to Prepare

Take the time to find a dentist you trust, who is also conveniently located, participates in your dental plan, and provides clear information regarding fees and payment options. If you have dental anxiety, let the staff know when you call to make your appointment. Modern dentistry is patient-focused, and most dentists have special techniques they can use to help anxious patients relax. 

During the Exam

Your dentist will carefully assess all of your teeth as well as your gums, bone structure, and bite. You may also need x-rays to assist with diagnosing any dental issues. Here is what dentists typically look for:

  • Overall oral health and hygiene
  • Risk for tooth decay, root decay, and gum or bone disease
  • Need for tooth restoration or replacement
  • Bite or jaw problems
  • Need for fluoride treatments
  • Signs of oral cancer

Your dentist will also ask about any underlying medical conditions your have and any medications or supplements you are taking. Some health issues raise the risk for gum disease, while some medications cause dry mouth, increasing the risk for tooth decay. In addition, conditions such as arthritis can make proper brushing difficult. Your dentist will offer suggestions for coping with the challenges that your medical condition may cause to your oral health.

If you have any tooth restorations or replacements, from crowns to bridges to dentures, your dentist will examine the fit and let you know if you need any adjustments. In addition, your dentist may talk to you about lifestyle factors that can affect your dental health such as tobacco use and diet.

Dental X-Rays

Dental x-rays come in a variety of forms, including:

Bitewing: Bitewing x-rays require you to bite down on the x-ray film holder, allowing your dentist to see the upper and lower teeth in one section of the mouth.

Periapical: Periapical x-rays focus on a specific tooth and the surrounding bone.

Occlusal: Occlusal x-rays allow your dentist to see how your upper and lower teeth fit together when your jaw is closed.

Panoramic: Panoramic x-rays provide a broad overview of your entire mouth.

Cone beam computerized tomography: This is a newer type of 3-D digital x-ray that allows your dentist to view the spacing of your teeth and oral structures.

At the end of your exam, your dentist will let you know what was found and review your options for treating any issues. He or she will also let you know when to schedule your next appointment. If you need treatment, your follow-up appointment will likely be scheduled within days or weeks. If you are in the clear, your next appointment will likely be in six months.


At Family Dental Care of Bellevue, we are committed to providing quality dental care to our patients and their families. We are proud to have been voted one of the best dental offices in Washington State. If you are ready to take the first steps toward improving your dental health, we invite you to call 425-643-5778 today to make an appointment for your initial consultation.

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