Skip to main content

Image: Haven’t seen the dentist in a while?

Haven’t seen the dentist in a while?

There’s no need to be afraid! Here’s what you can expect at your dental checkup — and why you should book an appointment sooner rather than later.


By Todd Thierer, DDS, MPH
May 2, 2019

      share on LinkedIn


Maybe you’re new to your dental plan or you just haven’t had time for a checkup. Perhaps you’re worried about the cost, or you’re a little scared of the dentist’s chair. Or, a lot scared. Whatever the reason, we’re here to put your mind at ease. Make that appointment. We’ll guide you through it.

What you can expect at your dental checkup

Before we dive into what happens at the dentist, let’s address the elephant in the exam room: fear. Many people are scared of going to the dentist. If you have any fears or concerns, you’re not alone and it’s totally okay. Let the dental hygienist (your dentist’s assistant) know right away what it is about the visit that makes you nervous or uncomfortable. They’re sure to have some solutions to help. Dental checkups may vary, but here are a few things you’ll likely experience.

First, a dental hygienist will clean your teeth. This process includes:

  • Checking your gum line. Gums can tell a lot about the overall health of your teeth.
  • Removing tartar (hard mineral buildup) from your teeth by using either a small instrument called a scaler or an ultrasonic cleaner.
  • Flossing your teeth to remove any plaque or food particles.
  • Polishing your teeth to help remove stains. Your cleaning helps your teeth look brighter. It also reduces the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
  • Finishing the job with an optional fluoride treatment to prevent cavities.

Next, the dental hygienist may check on your overall health by:

  • Taking your blood pressure. At HealthPartners Dental Group clinics, all patients have their blood pressure taken. It helps give us a picture of your overall health. After all, your mouth is connected to your body.
  • Discussing 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.

Then, your dentist will come in to examine you. They will:

  • Look over your teeth and gums to make sure everything looks healthy.
  • Perform an oral cancer screening. (It’s painless and only takes a minute.)
  • Feel for lumps along your neck, gums and under your tongue.
  • Create a personalized care plan based on your risk levels.

Also, your dentist may want to take X-rays. To do this, your dental hygienist or dentist will:

  • Take you into the clinic X-Ray room.
  • Place a heavy apron across your body for protection.
  • Insert a small piece of plastic in your mouth. You’ll bite down on it to align your teeth properly. Repeat this several times to thoroughly evaluate your teeth.

Ta-da! Your visit is (most likely) over!

See? Dental visits are usually simple and quick! If your dentist sees any red flags, such as signs of gum disease or tooth decay, they’ll likely share tips on better brushing and flossing habits. In some cases, your dentist may recommend other dental treatments. Your dentist may also provide you with a risk assessment, helping to measure your overall health level from low risk to high risk. For example, at all HealthPartners Dental Group clinics, patients leave every appointment with a risk assessment.

Four important reasons to see your dentist regularly

  1. You’ll get to know your hygienist and dentist
    Knowing your hygienist and dentist better makes asking questions, voicing concerns and getting through your dental appointments much more comfortable.
  2. You’ll enjoy a healthier smile
    One of the first things people notice about you is your smile. Seeing the dentist regularly means healthier teeth overall and this can lead to a happier, more confident you.
  3. You won’t have to live with dental pain
    If your teeth or gums hurt or bleed when you eat, drink, brush or floss, time won’t heal them. Contact your dentist at the first sign of pain or irritation.
  4. Having healthy teeth is key to a healthier you
    Your dentist knows what to look for when checking your gums and teeth. In fact, you might not even know anything is wrong at all because there aren’t any noticeable signs or symptoms. During a dental checkup, your dentist checks for signs of gum disease, cavities, dry mouth and oral cancer. They can also see signs that may point to other health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. Visiting the dentist regularly can help ensure that you’re living your best, healthiest life.

Schedule your appointment today

Have a dentist that you like? Great! Give them a call today. If not, search the HealthPartners Dental Group or log in to your myHealthPartners account to find a dentist in your network. Keeping up with your dental care is important. You’ll thank yourself in the long run.

About Todd Thierer, DDS, MPH

Dr. Todd Thierer is a dentist and is the Associate Dental Director, Primary Care for the HealthPartners Dental Clinics. He graduated from SUNY Buffalo School of Dental Medicine in 1988. Following graduation, he did a two year General Practice Residency (GPR) in Rochester, NY. He was faculty at the University of Rochester, Eastman Dental Center from 1990 until 2011 where he was Director of the GPR program and Medical Director of the Eastman Dental Center. He then joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry as Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs.

Dr. Thierer is committed to helping his patients maintain and/or restore their health in partnership with them. He has a professional interest in managing medically compromised patients as well as other patients who have special needs. He has lectured nationally on a variety of topics, and is actively involved with organized dentistry, dental education and is a longtime volunteer at Hope Dental Clinic (formerly Union Gospel Mission). His other interests include long distance running, hiking, biking and most outdoor activities.

Back to top