When elderly people are asked whether they have any regrets in life, a common answer is that they wish they had taken better care of their teeth. We all know that daily brushing and flossing is important, but one of the most vital steps you can take to ensure your dental – and overall – health is to visit your dentist for regular checkups. The American Dental Association recommends visiting a dentist for a regular checkup every six months, and most dental insurance provides for two checkups each year.
Part of a regular dental checkup is a cleaning, usually performed by a dental hygienist. Dental offices feature cleaning tools that provide a deeper clean than you can achieve at home with your toothbrush. Hygienists remove plaque and tartar from teeth with special instruments like scalers and polishers. Scalers are particularly useful for the removal of plaque buildup in hard-to-reach areas, like between teeth. Polishers remove buildup and stains from teeth. Hygienists will also floss your teeth and point out any areas of concern with your flossing technique.
In addition to a professional cleaning, which should leave your teeth feeling smooth and clean, your dentist will check for cavities and examine the health of your gums. You may have X-rays taken to screen for cavities. Your dentist will also look at your mouth, throat, and tongue for any signs of disease or cancer. Identifying problems before they become serious is the most important aspect of a dental checkup.
During your checkup, your dentist can also identify a host of other oral concerns, including bite problems, signs of bruxism (teeth grinding), and problems related to the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) of your lower jaw. TMJ disorders can cause more widespread symptoms, such as headaches and back, neck, and shoulder pain, so visiting your dentist might be your first step to alleviating chronic pain in other areas of your body.
From tooth decay to vitamin deficiencies to cancer, regular dental visits can uncover oral concerns before they become serious or life threatening. If your dentist identifies any problems, he or she will suggest a treatment plan that may involve anything to a change in your personal oral hygiene habits to getting a cavity filled to more extensive therapies like a root canal or oral surgery.
Good oral health provides a foundation for good overall health. Just as you should visit your physician yearly for a medical checkup, so should you adhere to a regular schedule of dental checkups. And if you have any questions or concerns about your dental health, your dentist will be able to address them face to face.
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