Good question! The first thing to remember is: You don’t need be afraid of your dentist. Dentistry as a practice is constantly evolving to improve patient comfort and ease of procedures. Today, visiting the dentist is a lot less painful and less invasive than it used to be.
And remember – your dentist is here to help you! Ask questions, request to see their tools, do whatever you need to feel comfortable.
To help you prepare, here are the 7 essentials of a modern dentist visit.
What to expect if you haven’t been to the dentist in years:
If you’re seeing a new dentist, you’ll want to have your dental records sent to the new office (no matter how old the records are).
You’ll need to fill out new patient forms as well. You can usually find these forms online prior to your appointment. You can print them out and have them ready before you arrive for your initial exam.
The most common paperwork includes a comprehensive health history form (which may ask about diet, allergies, and possible symptoms), financial policies, and a patient consent form.
2. New Technology
This part depends on how long you’ve been MIA. If it’s only been 5 years, you’ll probably recognize most of the tools and procedures.
If it’s been 20 years, you might run into some new things. Here’s a quick overview of how a modern dental checkup works.
You’ll definitely be getting x-rays, but they’re not nearly as intrusive as they used to be. They also use far less radiation due to digital x-ray technology replacing film x-ray.
Most dentists even have the machine in the checkup room, so you won’t have to get out of your chair.
3. Initial Checkup & Cleaning
Your hygienist will need to clean plaque and tartar from every single tooth, so expect this part to take the longest (especially if you have years of buildup). Today, dentists use an ultrasonic scaler that produces high-frequency vibrations to remove tartar and plaque with less scraping. They’ll also check your gums for inflammation.
Note: If you don’t practice strict oral hygiene, your gums are probably going to bleed. This is normal. Your hygienist can give brushing and flossing tips to reduce future inflammation.
4. Detailed checkup
Next, your dentist will check for cavities, gum disease, and oral cancer. This part is generally painless – gum disease and cancer are visual examinations, while cavities can be detected with a small hook tool.
They’ll also do a physical examination for bite alignment issues, and they’ll ask about any aches or pains.
Today, you can follow along with your dentist’s examination through the help of an intraoral camera. Computer monitors allow you to look at photos of your teeth while you discuss issues and work together to make a treatment plan.
5. Discussion of Any Issues
Next, you’ll discuss symptoms, any current or potential issues, and oral hygiene practices going forward.
If they noticed problems in steps 3 or 4, you’ll definitely want to listen to their advice for next steps. If they find an issue, make a plan to address it immediately. Complications from dental diseases can affect total body health and lead to much more painful (and expensive) conditions.
If you’ve identified other issues (like unusual aches or pains), they’ll do what they can to diagnose the issue and make you more comfortable.
6. Goodie bag
Probably everyone’s favorite part about visiting the dentist – free stuff! You’ll get a little bag of travel sized toothpaste, mouthwash, floss, and your dentist’s preferred brand of toothbrush.
7. Scheduling your next appointment
If you have any issues, you’ll have to come in again (maybe multiple times) in the immediate future.
Whether you have an issue or everything looks perfect, schedule your next checkup NOW. Despite humanity’s near-universal dislike for the dentist, there’s a reason we encourage twice yearly checkups.
Save yourself grief down the road and take care of your teeth. Make your next appointment before you leave the office.
In short, dentistry is not what it used to be! You might be surprised by how much it’s changed (for the better) while you’ve been away.