We all know how important it is to take care of our health, but sometimes we can fall behind on preventive care – especially for our teeth.

Maybe you’ve just switched to a new dental plan and haven’t chosen a new clinic yet. Maybe you’re worried about the cost, or even a little scared of the dentist’s chair. Perhaps you’ve just been busy.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to get into the habit of regular visits to the dentist. Why? Because preventive dental care is important to your overall health, your smile and more.

Below, we’ll give you a refresher on what a dental checkup and exam includes, answer common questions and address concerns you might have about going to the dentist.

What is preventive dentistry?

Preventive dental care is a combination of the daily care you do at home, like brushing and flossing your teeth, eating healthy, and getting regular dental checkups.

A regular dental checkup typically includes a teeth cleaning by a dental hygienist – a licensed healthcare professional who works closely with the dentist – as well as a dental exam by a dentist. We’ll talk more about what happens during a dental checkup below.

Why regular dental checkups are important

Good oral health and overall health are linked

Studies show that oral health is closely tied to your overall health. For example, gum disease has connections to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. That’s why your dentist looks for signs of gum disease at every checkup.

Your dentist also checks for signs of cavities, dry mouth and oral cancer, which can all affect your health and well-being if they go untreated. So by keeping up with your preventive dental exams, you’re also taking care of your whole body.

Preventive dental checkups help catch teeth issues early

In some cases, symptoms of gingivitis, tooth decay and other conditions can be mild enough to go unnoticed. Regular preventive dental checkups help make sure issues are caught and treated as early as possible. That means regular dental care helps protect you from painful oral health issues and more expensive treatments later on.

Healthy teeth lead to a happy smile

One of the first things people notice about you is your smile. Basic oral health care like brushing, flossing and seeing the dentist regularly keeps your teeth as clean and healthy as possible – giving you the confidence to smile wider and more often.

How often should you go to the dentist?

You may be wondering: Do you really need to go to the dentist every six months? It depends. Typically, a dental checkup should be scheduled every six to 12 months, but your dentist will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan.

When to see the dentist in between regular teeth cleanings and checkups

Sometimes you might ignore a little bit of tooth sensitivity or pain – and hope it goes away on its own. But just like it’s important to keep up with regular dental exams, it’s also important to get dental issues checked as early as possible. Any pain or unusual bleeding in your teeth or gums when you eat, drink, brush or floss is a sign that it’s time to see a dentist. Other signs to watch out for include:

  • Swelling or discoloration of your gums
  • A lump, swelling or numbness in your jaw, cheek, lips, tongue or other areas of your mouth
  • Loose teeth
  • Bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth that doesn’t go away
  • Headaches that are typically worse when you wake up in the morning

What should I expect at a dentist appointment if I haven’t been in years?

That’s okay. It’s never too late to start making a habit of going to the dentist. Your hygienist and dentist will do a comprehensive dental exam and teeth cleaning, as well as answer any oral health questions you may have.

What if I’m scared to go to the dentist?

If you have fear or concerns, you’re not alone. A lot of people don’t like going to the dentist and may even have some dental anxiety. But if you haven’t been to the dentist in a while, you might be surprised to learn how much more comfortable dental visits have become.

Let your dental hygienist know right away what it is about the visit that makes you nervous or uncomfortable. It can also be helpful to know what to expect during your dental checkup.

What does a dental checkup include?

Step 1: Checking in on your overall health

A dental hygienist will:

  • Take your blood pressure. At HealthPartners dental clinics, all patients have their blood pressure taken. Why does the dentist check your blood pressure? It helps give us a picture of your overall health. After all, your mouth health is connected to your body.
  • Ask about the foods and drinks you consume. They want to make sure you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals. They’ll also help you understand which kinds of foods and drinks cause the most damage to your teeth and the rest of your mouth and body.

Typically, you’ll have dental X-rays taken at the beginning of your appointment. X-rays help your dentist see issues like cavities that aren’t visible during an exam. It also will look at the health of your jaw. X-rays are safe for pregnant people, but let the hygienist know if you’re getting dental care during pregnancy.

If you need dental X-rays, your dental hygienist or dentist will put a small sensor in your mouth and align the X-ray tube with the sensor. X-rays may be taken at multiple angles to get a full picture of your oral health.

Step 2: Getting your teeth cleaned

A dental hygienist will:

  • Check your gums for any evidence of disease. If you have more advanced gum disease you may need multiple visits for more extensive cleaning.
  • Remove any tartar (hard mineral buildup) from your teeth using a small instrument called a scaler, an ultrasonic cleaner or a combination of the two.
  • Floss your teeth to remove any plaque or food particles.
  • Polish your teeth to help remove stains. This brightens your teeth and reduces your risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
  • Offer you an optional fluoride treatment to help prevent cavities.

Step 3: Getting a dental exam by a dentist

  • Looking over your teeth and gums to make sure everything looks healthy.
  • Performing an oral cancer screening – it’s painless and only takes a minute.
  • Feeling for lumps along your neck, gums and under your tongue.
  • Create a personalized dental treatment plan based on your needs. For example:
    • If your dentist sees signs of symptoms of gum disease, tooth decay or another condition, they’ll give you tips for managing it through everyday oral care. Your dentist and hygienist will also provide you with a risk assessment, which includes your risk of future cavities, gum disease and oral cancer. At all HealthPartners dental clinics, patients leave every checkup or new patient appointment with a risk assessment.
    • Sometimes the dentist might identify a condition that requires a referral to a specialist. For example, if you need your wisdom teeth removed, you would be referred to an oral surgeon. Or if you have an issue with your bite or the way your teeth are aligned, the dentist would refer you to an orthodontist.

How long do dentist appointments take?

Most dentist appointments take around 45 minutes, but an appointment may be longer or shorter depending on how long it’s been since your last checkup and the condition of your teeth.

If you have good oral health habits, the cleaning and exam process may be faster. If it’s been a while since you’ve been in, everything will take a little longer. Like we mentioned earlier, more advanced oral health issues can take multiple appointments to address.

How much a dental checkup costs

How much is a dental checkup with insurance?

Your regular dental appointments for a teeth cleaning and exam are almost always 100% covered by your dental insurance.

How much is a dental checkup without insurance?

The cost of a standard dental checkup without insurance may depend on where you live. But generally, a regular dental checkup and cleaning will cost somewhere between $80-$200. It may be upwards of $300-$400 if it’s been a while since your last dental checkup and you need a deep cleaning, or if X-rays are taken.

Take care of your oral health

Regular preventive dental checkups are key to maintaining both your oral health and your overall health. Checkups not only help prevent tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancer, but they help you avoid the pain and costs that dental problems can bring with them.

We know that seeing the dentist can be scary for some, but your dental care team is there to help things go smoothly. Schedule your next dental visit today.