Dr. Michael Handler

The Importance of Regular Dental Checkups

By Dr. Michael Handler

The Importance of Regular Dental Checkups

Everyone talks about the importance of having regular dental checkups, but for many people this gives rise to several questions. These include:

  • What does “regular” mean – i.e. how often should you have a checkup, does this differ from person to person and if so, why?
  • What does the dentist typically check at these examinations?
  • Which costs does health insurance cover, and what do you have to pay for?
  • What are the benefits (and any disadvantages) or having regular dental examinations?

All these factors come into play when you’re considering how often to go for a checkup, so we’ve put together some answers for you.

How Often You Should Have a Dental Examination

For the average dental patient, a visit every six months is the normal recommendation. This depends on a number of factors, however, and your dentist will typically tell you how often you should come. For low-risk people who maintain a good daily oral hygiene regimen, an annual visit might be sufficient.

Those with underlying medical conditions might need to go more often, particularly if they want to maintain a preventive dental healthcare program.

Some conditions that could cause you to need more frequent attention from your dentist are:

  • Smoking
  • Pregnancy
  • Diabetes
  • Periodontal (gum) disease

Anyone with a compromised immune system resulting from chronic illness or infection, or a tendency to get cavities or plaque build-up more easily might be advised to schedule quarterly visits if possible.

What Bi-Annual Exams Cover

During each dental checkup, your dentist will examine your mouth with a dental mirror for signs of cavities, plaque and tartar buildup. He (or she) might take x-rays to identify any decay between the teeth, and make a careful inspection of your gums and measure how deep the gum pockets are around the teeth. He’ll examine your tongue, throat, face and neck for signs of swelling or redness, and he might recommend an oral cancer screening test. This is a simple process that requires you to swirl liquid around in your mouth for a few seconds, after which the dentist checks your cheeks and gums with a special light.

If your dentist spots any areas of concern, he’ll discuss these with you. Minor cavities or other issues can usually be addressed during the visit, but for any major work such as extractions, root canals or tooth replacement you’ll have to schedule another appointment. Either the dentist or a resident dental hygienist will give you a thorough scaling and cleaning using special tools to remove tartar, followed by polishing. We might also advise you to undergo a fluoride treatment, although this usually isn’t needed at every bi-annual visit.

Cost of a Dental Visit

In Canada, oral health is considered a basic human right, even though dental interventions aren’t usually covered by OHIP. Costs vary between dental offices, but in most instances Ontario dentists charge approximately the prices recommended in the provincial fee guide, but this depends entirely on the work you need to have done. If you have private healthcare insurance, it typically covers the cost of one annual examination and a percentage of the procedure costs up to a maximum amount.

Your best bet for finding out what your dental care will cost is to get an estimate from the dentist beforehand, and check with your insurance to see how much is covered. Some insurers require you to pay upfront and claim reimbursement, while others pay the dental office direct. Dental hygienists usually charge a separate fee, so be sure to ask for the cost of cleaning too.

Benefits of Regular Examinations

While it might seem inconvenient to have to pay for dental checkups, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. With most oral care excluded from the provincial healthcare, preventing tooth decay and other oral problems is likely more economical than paying for treatments. Even when it comes to the more expensive procedures, such as root canals, implants and orthodontic devices, taking care of your teeth reduces the cost and pain of care.

A study by the Canadian Dental Association shows a significant increase in dental decay over the past 40 years, in spite of a good overall standard of oral health. Don’t become another statistic; schedule regular examinations and cleanings for yourself and your family, and ensure that the only dental care you ever need is preventive.


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