What to Expect During a Dentist Office Visit


Did you know? Approximately 75% of all Americans suffer from some kind of gum disease, yet many of them aren’t even aware of it.

gum disease

Just like anyone with children should make visits to pediatrics a part of their normal routine, anyone with teeth or gums should make visits to their local dental clinics a normal part of their lives.

A dentist’s office visit doesn’t have to be something you dread, though. As scary as dentist office visits may seem to us as children, dentists and hygienists truly want to help. They will usually go out of their way to make your visit as comfortable and streamlined as possible.

Often you’re allowed to watch movies or TV during dentist office visits. Dentists will frequently break up a procedure across multiple office visits so it isn’t too much to handle all at once. There are many options for sedation and pain relief that can help you through the appointment. You can even follow a dentist’s office visit with a trip to the ice cream parlor — a common practice to help ease swelling after dental procedures that double as a way to build positive associations with the dentist, especially for children.

Whether you’re going in for basic cleaning, a teeth whitening procedure, or having a cavity filled, making it to the dentist’s office moves you closer to excellent oral health and brighter smiles. In the long run, this will inevitably increase happiness and confidence.

Before the Dentist Office Visit

First of all, you should plan to take enough time off work or school to avoid feeling rushed or anxious about getting back. A dentist’s office visit can be stressful as it is without having anything else to worry about for the rest of the day.

When you call to make your appointment, ask how long the cleaning and exam usually takes. If you’re going for something more specialized, such as having cavities filled, as about the time required for this process. After the receptionist tells you how long to expect the appointment to take, add extra time to that. You may be in the dentist’s chair even longer if it’s been a long time since your last visit.

It’s a good idea to set your appointment for the end of the day, since that way you can go right home afterward. This is especially helpful if you tend to feel slightly sick or exhausted after a dentist’s office visit.

If you have dental insurance, make sure the dentist you’re going to see is in-network so you can save money. You may have to co-pay while you’re at the office, or the dentist may mail you a bill after your insurance provider pays them. On the other hand, if you don’t have insurance at all, make sure the receptionist has told you accurately how much the full price for treatment will be.

On the day of your appointment, make sure you take your transportation early so you get there in time to fill out any important or unexpected paperwork. If the forms to fill out are available on the dental clinic’s website, print them out and fill them in ahead of time. Even if you do fill out the forms ahead of time, though, the staff will still need time to file them, so plan to arrive early. You will also need to have your driver’s license and insurance card ready when they check you in at the reception desk.

What to Expect During a Routine Visit

A dental hygienist will cover your chest with a paper or plastic cloth, and they may provide eye shields for you to wear as well.

dental hygienist

You’ll see the hygienist has a tray of metal and possibly ultrasonic tools, which they will use to scrape off any hard buildup on your teeth. They’ll work with one tooth at a time, removing plaque and tartar from the surfaces of your teeth and along your gum line. They may finish by flossing between your teeth, too.

If you experience any pain or discomfort during the process, you should let the hygienist know. They will allow you to take breaks when you need them.

After the cleaning and scraping is done, you’ll rinse your mouth out well. Next, the hygienist will use a tool with a spinning head to polish your teeth. They may allow you to choose the flavor of buffing paste that they use. Then you’ll rinse your mouth out again.

Generally, your face will be X-rayed to find any potential problems that can’t be seen with the naked eye. This is a preventive measure that a dentist will typically recommend once per year.

After this, the hygienist will bring the dentist into the room to conduct a thorough exam of your mouth. They’ll check each tooth and your gums, looking out for pockets or gaps that could spell trouble later.

A special tool called a periodontal probe will be used to help the dentist locate problem spots. It may be made of metal, or it may be an ultrasonic tool. It will measure the depth of any gum pockets the dentist finds. As the dentist works, the hygienist will often take notes on what the dentist discovers.

After this process is finished, your appointment is nearly done. Before you move on with your day, the dentist will stay behind to talk about how things are looking for your oral health. They will make recommendations and suggestions for how to take care of your teeth and gums going forward, and mention any procedures that should be conducted next. They may recommend natural medicine to try, such as calcium supplements, which can help keep your teeth strong and healthy.

This is what a basic dentist office visit looks like for a routine appointment.

What to Expect During a First or Non-Routine Visit

If it’s been a long time since you last had a dentist’s office visit, you should expect the same care that you receive during a routine visit, along with some extras.

For new patients and visits after a couple of years, dentists will usually require X-rays. The dentist will want a complete look at everything going on inside your teeth, gums, and surrounding bone structures.

You should expect to hang tight while the hygienist gives you a deep cleaning session. The longer time you spend between visits, the more tartar builds up in and around your teeth. If you have particularly sensitive teeth, you may want to ask the dentist or hygienist about numbing options to lessen the pain before they start working. Getting hard tarter removed can be uncomfortable, but the way your teeth will feel smooth and clean afterward will make it worth it. You’ll love your fresh breath afterward, too.

It’s possible that your gums may hurt and bleed a little while the dentist problems your teeth and checks for gum pockets. However, any pain shouldn’t last long.

Don’t be too upset if the dentist finds problems with your oral health. By following through with this appointment, you’re already on your way to fixing any problems with your dentist’s help. With good dental habits after today, routine visits will be easier from now on.

After the Dentist Office Visit

If you find that your mouth is quite sore after the appointment, you can take over the counter medicine for pain relief. If your teeth hurt, your jaw swells, or you just have questions about continuing dental care, don’t hesitate to call the dentist’s office. If you experience a broken tooth, this should be treated as an emergency, and you should let your dentist know as soon as possible.

If your mouth is healthy and there are no real problems to be treated for, you should continue to get a cleaning and exam once every six months. Depending on what the dentist discovers during the exam, they might recommend a treatment plan, focusing on the most needed care first.

To resolve oral health problems, you’ll most likely need to return to the dentist’s office sooner than you would for just another routine visit.

You may require fillings to fill in cavities in your teeth before they increase in size. In instances of more severe decay, the dentist may put crowns on the tips of decaying teeth, protecting the core and keeping the root in place. When a crown is used, it will be cemented into place to look and feel just like a real tooth.

For improving the appearance of your teeth, cosmetic bonding, veneers, and shaping may be used for broken or discolored teeth. If you’re interested in making your teeth look as clean, white, and bright as possible, ask your dentist about options to improve your overall smile.

To begin the healing process for gum issues, scaling and root planing can be used to clean the sides of your teeth below the gum line. This will invite the gums to tighten up around the roots more effectively. To check your progress as gums heal, you may need to be X-rayed every six months.

If the dentist discovers infection or swelling around the roots of your teeth, you may require a root canal procedure. This treatment involves a process of opening the tooth to clean the inside, then closing it back up. However, you may need to see a dental specialist called an endodontist to receive this treatment.

Your dentist may advise replacing missing or damaged teeth with implants or bridges. Dental implants are screws made out of titanium metal. They are drilled into your jawbone, acting as anchors for crowns that look and feel just like teeth. Unlike removable implants like dentures, these are long term teeth replacements that can’t come out after being put into place. Best of all, they work just like your natural teeth do.

On the other hand, bridges are somewhat more like dentures in that they can be removed after being put in place. They fill (or “bridge”) the gap where a tooth or group of teeth are missing, and are anchored into place by the strong, healthy teeth on each side.

Whatever course of action your dentist decides is best for you, you may require a payment plan to cover the cost involved. Fortunately, many dentist offices work with programs to let you pay for procedures and treatments in monthly installments, instead of all at once.

Answers to Common Questions About Dentist Visits

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Why are regular dental visits so important?

It’s important to make regular appointments with your dentist because that’s the only way you can be made aware of dental problems before they get worse. Treatment is most effective when problems are caught early, rather than later. Early treatment is also usually more affordable and easy to implement. Often, problems are prevented from being developed altogether because of a timely dentist visit.

Should you see a dentist, even if you don’t have any symptoms?

The short answer to this is, yes. Even if you don’t show any symptoms of poor oral health, you could still have health problems that may be just starting to develop. Remember, by the time you start noticing symptoms, it’s already late. You want your dentist to catch and respond to problems early, not after they become big problems.

How often should you visit the dentist?

As mentioned above, you should visit the dentist for an appointment at least once every year. If you’re really concerned about your oral health, once every six months is also a good idea. If you haven’t been to the dentist in a long while, even if the dentist didn’t discover any problems during your first visit, it may still be a good idea to go on for a checkup every six months for a year or two.

How do you keep your dental health under control with your dentist’s help?

Practice the following tips for keeping your teeth, gums, and mouth healthy for the long term:

  • Follow healthy daily habits. Brush your teeth for two minutes twice daily, floss once per day, and use mouth wash after brushing.
  • Build a long term professional relationship with your dentist. Continuity of care is important to any health plan. If your dentist is able to see you regularly, they will be in a good position to catch and address oral problems early.
  • Watch out for changes in the health or comfort of your mouth over time. If something doesn’t feel right or some part of your mouth is in pain, don’t wait for your next appointment to tell your dentist.
  • Be open with your dentist. As with all of your healthcare providers, keep a relaxed and open line of communication between you and your dentist. Only they can determine the best treatment plan for you, but if you don’t tell them everything they need to know, their ability to help will be limited. Don’t be afraid to be open and honest with your dentist. Remember, they are your friend and ally against bad oral health.

You now know what to expect from your next dentist’s office visit. You also know the best rules of thumb for maintaining good oral health. By following these tips and staying connected to your dentist, you can expect to enjoy good health and hygiene for the rest of your life.

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