How Often Should I See My Dentist?

More than 50 years ago there were no set standards for dental visits.  In general, people had poor oral health. To improve dental health and establish prevention of dental disease, dental and health organizations developed some guidelines.  Among those guidelines was the recommendation that people visit their dentist every six months for a check-up and thorough cleaning (hygiene). There was no research to support this guideline. In the last couple of decades studies conducted on frequency of dental visits and health care concluded visits should be customized to the patient.  People at less risk need less frequent visits and those at higher risk need more frequent visits.  I have a few patients that we see once a month and a few that we see every two years.  Most fall into the 6 month frequency because of some risk.

Identifying risk factors:

·  Gums that bleed when probed by the dentist or hygienist

·  History of or new gum disease

·  Have had a new cavity in the last two years

·  Have had considerable previous dentistry (fillings, crowns, gum treatment, tooth loss)

·  Reduced ability to brush and floss (arthritis, physical or mental disability)

·  Medicines can cause dry mouth increase risk (e.g. high blood pressure, allergy, antianxiety, antidepressants)

·  Medical conditions that cause dry mouth increase risk (e.g. Sjögren’s syndrome, diabetes, Alzheimer's, stroke)

·  As we age our saliva glands produce less saliva increasing risk

At the time of your check-up and cleaning, your dentist and hygienist may recommend additional dental care.  These dental issues generally fall into two categories: essential and nonessential or elective.  Essential services are those that address dental problems that are health-related, like decay (cavities), gum disease, airway problems, crowded teeth, replacement of missing teeth, cracked or fractured teeth, abscess, growths and tumors. If your dentist and dental hygienist detect any of these issues they will recommend treatment in order to address the disease and/or restore proper function and optimal health.  Your dentist can tell you how urgent each situation is, but essential services are not problems you want to delay because they just get worse, have more consequences and usually become more expensive.

Nonessential or elective services may or may not improve health and function but may be important to the patient.  This includes treatment of discolored teeth, correcting minor tooth crowding, silencing snoring and improving smiles.  Treatments may include: whitening, veneers, tooth colored fillings, minor orthodontic movement, snore therapy and/or crowns.  Dentistry that is still functional but not esthetic can be replaced with more esthetic dentistry.  Examples of this are dark gray amalgam (silver-mercury) fillings, stained tooth colored fillings that no longer match the teeth, veneers that have stained edges or no longer cover the full tooth due to some gum recession, old crowns or bridges that show metal edges. Although these treatments are not vital they often give the patient a lot of satisfaction.

Twice a year visits to your dentist is still the general rule for those with some risk, but if you haven’t had a discussion with your dentist about the recommended frequency of your hygiene visits do so, especially if you have any of the risk factors listed above.  If your dentist detects issues that will negatively impact your health move forward with the recommendation.  Our patients’ good health and happiness are our ultimate goal.

Dr. Robert A. Gallegos is a Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry, he is on the faculty of Spear Education, a member the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and the American Dental Association.  Dr. Gallegos practices dentistry in Middleburg, VA.

Dr. Gallegos