A dental exam is performed during a first time visit or a regular 6 – month checkup. It usually involves your entire mouth and is often accompanied by a dental X-ray. During the exam, your dentist will check the health of your gums and teeth, as well as any dental restorations (such as crowns, bridges and fillings). They can also focus on a specific issue or a particular area of your mouth. Your dentist will also review and explain any digital dental X-rays. Oral exams are a great time to ask your dentist or dental hygienist any questions you might have. 

An oral exam can help your dentist spot the first signs of dental problems, like gum disease or cavities. That in turn can help you be proactive and take care of any issues that arise right away. 

Oral exams can be divided into four main categories: comprehensive, regular, limited and follow up. Below is a short description of each. 

Comprehensive Oral Exam 

These types of evaluations are typical during first time visits or for patients who are seeing a new dentist. Also, if a long time has passed since your last dental checkup, you will receive a comprehensive oral exam during your visit. 

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Regular Oral Exam

They are performed periodically, usually every 6 months, for established patients, and are commonly referred to as dental checkups. These evaluations help your dentist update existing information. A dental X-ray may be recommended, if a long time has passed since the last one, if your dentist spots an issues that may require an X-ray, or if you come in with new symptoms and/or pain.  

Limited Oral Exam 

This type of an exam focuses on a specific issue or area of your mouth. It is used to detect and diagnose symptoms like swelling or pain. You can expect your dentist to ask questions regarding your symptoms. This exam involves a visual evaluation and may require a dental X-ray followed by a diagnostic reading. 

Follow–up Oral Exam 

After a procedure, to monitor progress for specific treatment or to ensure proper healing, your dentist may ask you to schedule a follow-up exam. During this evaluation, he or she will perform a visual check and ask questions about any pain or new symptoms you may be experiencing. 

It is important to note that during comprehensive and periodic oral exams your dentist will conduct a visual check to look for inflammation, periodontal pockets, bleeding and build-up under and around your gums. They will also check your mouth and tongue for anything that may potentially be a warning sign of a more serious condition. They will also review any dental X-rays and check your teeth, gums, and dental restorations (fillings, bridges and crowns). If you have a full or partial denture, you will be asked to remove it for the duration of the exam.  Your dentist will ask you if you’ve experienced any dental problems, and it’s important to share your concerns and symptoms with them. 

Oral Exams for Children

To establish a positive relationship between your child and a dentist as well as to put your child at ease, it is important to bring them for checkups periodically. Regular pediatric exams will ensure the oral health of your child. Both the AAPD and ADA recommend that a child’s first dental exam be scheduled after the first tooth emerges and no later that their first birthday. 

Dental X-Rays

Oral X-rays are crucial in the diagnostic process of your dental health. They provide valuable information not visible during a regular exam. They help discover hidden abnormalities and greatly aid in designing a comprehensive treatment plan. 

There are a number of  X-ray categories that may be required during your visit. 

  • Full Mouth: They are typically a part of a comprehensive oral exam. The series of “full set” dental X-rays capture the entire mouth. They help establish a baseline of your oral health and history. They’re a combination of bitewing and periapical (PA) X-rays. 
  • Bitewing: Show the upper and lower back teeth simultaneously. The dentist can see how the teeth line up and touch. These X-rays help dentists look for gum disease, infection, bone loss or any decay. 
  • Periapical (PA): Show the whole tooth- from the crown to the end of the root where the tooth is attached to the jaw. These X-rays help dentists detect any changes below the gum line or in the root and surrounding bone structures (abscesses, tumors, cysts). 
  • Periodic: These X-rays are used during checkups and are also known as “recall X-rays”. They are a combination of bitewing and periapical X-rays. 
  • Limited: These X-rays are also a combination of bitewing and PA X-rays but they focus on a particular area of your mouth to diagnose a specific issue. They may also be taken during a dental procedure whenever necessary. 
  • Panoramic: It is used for diagnostics or specific treatment. It shows the entire mouth: jaw, teeth, nasal area, sinuses and the TMJ joint in one view. These X-rays are often required when diagnosing issues with wisdom teeth or during orthodontic and implant consultations.  

The newest X-ray equipment is fully digital, which means that the levels of radiation are much lower than with the conventional X-rays. This cutting-edge technology, combined with additional protective measures (such as shields and screens) and best practices, mean that the patient’s exposure to radiation is minimal (80-90% lower than standard film X-rays). 

Frequently Asked Questions about Oral Exams and X-Rays in Cincinnati, OH

How do oral exams look like for pregnant women?

Pregnant women should continue with their regular checkups. Most types of dental treatments, including diagnostic X-rays, do not pose risks for normal pregnancies. Often, the hormonal changes that happen during a pregnancy, may make women more likely to experience dental issues. Periodic oral exams can help detect and treat them. It is, however, imperative to let your dentist and hygienist know at the beginning of your visit, that you are expecting. You can discuss any concerns you may have with them. 

What is the cost of oral exams and dental X-rays? 

The cost of oral exams and X-rays depends on many factors, such as type and frequency. It may be beneficial to check your coverage if you have dental insurance. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff will gladly review your coverage with you. We’ll make sure to maximize your insurance benefits, while keeping out-of-pockets costs at minimum. 

Instead of having to take new X-rays, can I use the ones I have from a different dental office? 

It may be possible to transfer your files, such as X-ray images, from one practice to another. You may need to provide permission for us to be able to access your records. Please note that even with an electronic transfer, the quality of a digital X-ray may be lost. X-rays are vital in proper diagnostics, therefore the dentist will review all available records and let you know if any additional imaging is needed. 

What if I don’t agree to an X-ray? 

You are always in control of your health and therefore can refuse to have an X-ray taken. However, we would strongly recommend talking to your dentist about your concerns. X-rays allow your dentist to detect dental issues that may not be visible and therefore are a crucial part of an oral exam. 

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