Making it to the chair puts you closer to better health and smiling with more confidence.
Before the Appointment
Plan enough time off from work or school to feel less rushed or anxious about getting back. When you make your appointment, ask how long cleaning and exam usually take, then add extra time to that. You’ll be in the dentist’s chair longer if it’s been a while since your last visit.
If you have dental insurance, see if your dentist can direct bill to save money. You may have to pay a co-pay when you’re at the office, or your dentist might bill you the balance after your insurance pays them. If you don’t have insurance, find out ahead of time how much you should plan to pay at your appointment.
On the day, get there early so you can fill out paperwork (or turn it in if forms are available online ahead of time) and give the staff time to set you up.
A Routine Visit
A dental hygienist covers your chest with a plastic or paper cloth, and you may get eye shields to wear, too. You’ll see a tray of metal and perhaps ultrasonic tools. The hygienist uses these, working a tooth at a time, to scrape off any hard buildup of plaque and tartar on the surfaces and along your gumline.
If your jaw hurts or you have mouth pain while they’re cleaning, let the hygienist know. You can have rest breaks when you need them.
Then the hygienist brings the dentist in to do a thorough exam, checking each tooth and looking for pockets or gaps between your teeth and gums.
A tool called a periodontal probe, which could be metal or ultrasonic, helps the dentist find problem spots. It can also measure the depth of any gum pockets. The hygienist often stays to record notes in your chart.
Afterwards, the dentist will talk to you about how things are looking and what’s next.
A First or Non-Routine Visit
If it’s been a while since you’ve seen the dentist, you can expect the same care as a routine visit, as well as some extras.
New patient appointments and visits after more than a couple of years have passed usually require X-rays. The dentist wants a complete look at what’s going on inside your teeth, gums, and supporting bone structures.
Plan to hang in there for a deep cleaning session with the hygienist. The longer you wait between visits, the more hard tartar builds up on teeth and around the gumline. (If your teeth are sensitive, talk to the hygienist or dentist about numbing options to lessen pain before the work starts.) Having tartar removed can be uncomfortable, but the clean, smooth feel of your teeth after is well worth it. You’ll have fresher breath, too.
After the Visit
If your mouth is sore, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers.
Call the office between routine visits if you have questions, your teeth hurt, or your jaw swells. Issues like broken teeth are an emergency, and you should let your dentist know right away.
When your mouth is healthy, you should probably get a cleaning and exam every 6 months. Depending on what the dentist finds during your exam, they’ll recommend a treatment plan, dealing with the most needed care first.
To take care of problems, you’ll likely need to come back sooner than you would for another routine visit.
Whatever plan of care your dentist recommends, you will also need a plan for paying for the work. For more complex procedures, you may be able to set up a payment plan to cover your part of the cost.