Isn't every check up a comprehensive dental exam? Teeth and gums are poked and prodded at each visit. What else can there be?
Yes, the teeth and gums are checked, but there is so much more that can be done. A comprehensive dental exam is a visit by itself and would be too long to perform every time you had a dental appointment. There are so many aspects to be covered, that each clinician will perform a slightly different version. I will give you a general overview of what should be included in a comprehensive exam, but since training and experience vary, there will be deviations. The purpose is to find out what is healthy, what is not healthy and examine each aspect of a patient's oral health closely enough to be able to tell the difference.
Areas to check:
- Periodontal exam(gum and bones supporting the teeth)
- Dental Exam(teeth)
- Head and Neck Cancer Exam(soft tissues of mouth, throat and surrounding structures)
- Occlusal Exam(Bite analysis
- TMJ Exam(jaw joints)
- Radiographic Exam(x-rays and various scans)
- Salivary Function Exam(quantity and quality of saliva
- Esthetic Exam(appearance of teeth and gums related to the face)
Each one of the above can either be done as a screening exam, or as a complete exam. It is the screening that is done on your periodic visits. The screening hits the highlights, but does not go in depth. The screening is perfectly acceptable and is good dentistry. Who should have a comprehensive dental exam and when?
Everyone should have a comprehensive exam at least every 3-5 years. That way any potential problems can be discovered before they have time to progress into major problems. Dental disease is very predictable, and so much is preventable.
If any major treatment is planned, the comprehensive exam is the place to start. Even if you only want to do a few teeth, it is better to see the entire health picture first, then you can make informed choices about how to proceed with treatment.
If you are considering any esthetic changes to your smile, a comprehensive exam should be done first.
If you are considering implants to replace lost teeth, a comprehensive exam should be done first.
If you have old dental restorations that you would like to update, a comprehensive exam should be done first.
If you are getting new dentures, a comprehensive exam should be done first.
If you have been diagnosed with a medical problem or disease, you should have a comprehensive dental exam. You can then get treatment for any contributing dental problems, and hopefully make your disease more manageable.
A comprehensive dental exam means no stone has been left unturned. Your dentist will know everything there is to know about your oral health. That knowledge will enable you and your dentist to make choices that are right for you. Sometimes consultations with various specialists will be needed to complete the exam. Don't be discouraged by this. The investigative steps taken in the beginning will mean better treatment for you in the long run. There is a lot of time and work involved in a comprehensive exam, but the knowledge gained is invaluable.