You know the routine. You come to your dental appointment where you get your teeth cleaned and sometime during the appointment, the dentist comes in and gives the verdict concerning whether you have any cavities or not. Do you ever wonder what your dentist is doing while they look in your mouth?
First thing we do is see if there are any changes in medical history that we should be aware of that could have an impact on your body such as new medications or recent hospitalizations. The hygienist will fill us in if there are any changes such as medical history, cavities or sores, bone loss or gum pockets, or anything else they have noticed while cleaning all the nooks and crannies of your teeth.
We take a look at x-rays to check for cavities. Bitewings, which are x-rays that are usually taken with cleanings, are used to diagnose cavities especially in between your teeth or under crowns or fillings. They can show many other things such as areas of bone loss. It is very important to have regularly updated x-rays as it tells a part of the story we cannot see directly with our own eyes. Delaying x-rays too long can let problems grow into more painful and/or expensive issues.
A visual examination of the teeth is also needed. First, we use an explorer on the teeth which is helpful to check for soft or defective areas of tooth. We check suspicious grooves on the tooth to see if anything feels soft or leathery and around crowns and fillings to see if they are decayed, chipped, worn, or failing. Cavities can also be detected by changes in color in the tooth as well so it’s important for us to have good lighting (which is why you see us with a flashlight on our heads). We wear glasses with telescopes, called loupes, to help magnify your teeth.
Sometimes we will use air to dry off your teeth – which often comes with the question what does the air do? The air merely dries your spit off your teeth. When your tooth is dry, we can see cavities or plaque which can look dark, dull (as opposed to shiny enamel) or chalky. Drying your tooth also gets those darn spit bubbles out of the way!
The next thing we do can make patients giggle – which is asking you to stick your tongue out. I know your parents probably told you this wasn’t very nice, but in this case it’s okay. We do it to look at your tongue because the sides of it are the most common sites for oral cancer. We then stretch your lips to take a good peek around at the rest of your mouth – including your cheeks, under your tongue, the roof of your mouth, and back of your throat. After we have you close, we are often seeing how your teeth are biting together.
The last part of the exam and checking to see if you have any questions. All this dental lingo can be confusing and sound like another language. I love questions so be sure if you don’t understand something to let us know!