During a first or a six-month check-up visit, a dental exam involving your entire mouth, is performed. It is often followed by a dental X-ray. Your dentist will be checking your overall oral health – gums, teeth, dental restorations (fillings, crowns, bridges, dentures, implants). They will also review any 3-D digital images that were taken during the visit. Sometimes, the doctor may focus on a specific area of your mouth or a particular issue.  Oral exams are a perfect time to talk to your dentist, ask questions or share concerns. 

Your dentist can spot the first signs of dental problems, such as cavities or gum disease, during oral exams. That allows you to be proactive and take the necessary steps to correct or treat the issue immediately. 

There are four main categories of oral exams: comprehensive, regular, limited and follow up. 

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Comprehensive Oral Exam 

These evaluations are usually performed when: 

  • It is the patient’s first visit
  • A patient is seeing a new dentist 
  • It has been a long time since the last dental check-up. 

Regular Oral Exam

These evaluations are performed every six months for established patients. They are also referred to as dental checkups. They are used to update the existing information. Sometimes they are accompanied by an X-ray, especially if a long time has passed since the last one, if a dentist suspects an issue with your mouth or if you are experiencing new symptoms and/or pain. 

Limited Oral Exam 

To diagnose a problem, such as pain or swelling, a limited oral exam is performed. The evaluation focuses on a particular issue or area of your mouth. The dentist will ask questions about the symptoms you are experiencing. In addition to a visual exam, your doctor may also take an X-ray to further understand the root of your problem. 

Follow–up Oral Exam 

A follow-up oral exam is usually scheduled: 

  • after a dental procedure to check the state of your gums and teeth
  • to check if recommended treatment is progressing
  • to make sure that the healing process is going well. 

Your dentist will perform a visual check and will also ask about any pain, symptoms or concerns you may have. 

Comprehensive and periodic oral exams are times when your dentist is trying to get a good picture of your overall dental health. This is also a time to ask questions, share worries or talk about any symptoms you may be experiencing. Throughout the evaluation, dentists:  

  • visually check for inflammation, periodontal pockets, bleeding, and build up around your gums, 
  • take a closer look at your mouth and tongue to spot any potential signs of a more serious condition, 
  • check the state of your teeth, gums and restorations
  • review and explain any dental X-rays they have taken. 

Oral Exams for Children

Just like adults, children should also visit their dentist regularly. It helps in establishing a positive relationship between the two, and makes your child feel more comfortable and confident when visiting a dental office. Pediatric exams ensure that your child’s oral health is in good shape. It is generally recommended that the first dental exam should be scheduled right after the first tooth emerges and before the child’s first birthday. 

Dental X-Rays

X-ray images provide important information, not visible during an oral exam, about your dental health. They help in diagnosing potential problems, discovering hidden abnormalities and preparing treatment plans. 

There are several different types of X-rays that may be taken during a dental visit. 

  • Full Mouth:  These X-rays usually capture the entire mouth; they consist of bitewing and periapical (PA) X-rays. They are often taken during a comprehensive oral exam. Your dentist uses them to establish your oral history and health. 
  • Bitewing: Images show both the upper and lower back teeth at the same time. Your dentist can check how your teeth line up and touch. They can also show signs of several dental conditions, like infections, bone loss, decay, or gum disease. 
  • Periapical (PA): These X-rays show the entire tooth, from the crown all the way down to the root. The tooth’s attachment to the bone is also visible. Looking at your PA images, your dentist can spot any changes (like cysts, abscesses, or tumors) below the gum line – in the root or surrounding bone structures. 
  • Periodic: Images often taken during check-up appointments. They are also called “recall X-rays” and combine bitewing and periapical X-rays. 
  • Limited: They are also a combination of the PA and bitewing X-rays; however, limited images focus on a specific area of your mouth. Sometimes, they can also be taken during a dental procedure.  
  • Panoramic: X-rays that show the entire mouth and surrounding tissues in one image: teeth, jaw, nasal area, sinuses and the TMJ joint. They are taken for diagnostic purposes or during a particular treatment (like diagnosing problems with wisdom teeth, or as part of the implant or orthodontic consultation). 

Due to the advances in technology, the newest X-ray machines are fully digital. Their level of radiation is much lower than those of the traditional equipment. In addition, your dentist will take other protective measure to further minimize your exposure to radiation. In most cases it is minimal (80-90% lower than standard film X-rays). 

Frequently Asked Questions about Oral Exams & X Rays Columbus, Indiana [IN]

Do pregnant women need oral exams? 

The short answer is yes. Regular dental check-ups should be scheduled during pregnancy. In fact, hormonal changes associated with pregnancies often make women more likely to suffer from dental problems. To prevent them and detect them early, it is best to attend periodic oral exams. Most dental procedures and evaluations, including X-rays, pose no risk to pregnant women. If you are expecting, it is especially important that you let your doctor or hygienist know right away. They will address any concerns you may have. 

How much are dental X-rays and exams? 

Type and frequency of dental evaluations and X-rays greatly affect the cost. If you are not sure whether your insurance provider covers X-rays and exams, it is a good idea to check in with them. You can also talk to the dental staff about financing options and coverage. They will maximize your benefits and keep the out-of-pockets cost at minimum. 

Can I transfer my dental X-rays between dentists? 

Yes, it may be possible to transfer your files, such as X-rays, from one dental facility to another. Your written permission may be needed to access your records. It is good to know that even with an electronic transfer, the quality of your digital X-rays may not be the same. X-rays are important in make a diagnosis. Your dentist will review all available images and tell you if more are necessary. 

Can I refuse an X-ray? 

You are the patient, and it is ultimately up to you if an X-ray will be taken. Given how helpful they are in diagnostic care (especially in detecting issues not visible to the human eye), we would strongly recommend getting them whenever needed. It may be helpful to share any concerns you may have about X-rays with your dentist. 

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