First Adult Dental Visit Expectations
Matt Hannan, DDS
Updated: January 14, 2024
According to the American Dental Association, (ADA) 42% of individuals don’t see a dentist as often as they would like.
Meanwhile, 85% of Americans believe their oral health is essential to their overall health.
It’s safe to say that Americans have room for improvement when receiving dental care; however, many pitfalls keep us out of the dental chair.Recommended Reading: Overcoming Obstacles at the Dentist
Adult Dental Visit Expectations
Before your visit, if possible, complete relevant medical and dental questionnaires online.
Take advantage of this opportunity to expedite your dental visit on the day of your appointment. Completing them online provides adequate time to answer each question thoroughly and without feeling rushed
Also, if you take any medications, you can document them more accurately from home.
- Dental x-rays
- Periodontal evaluation
- Intraoral and extraoral exams
- Teeth evaluation
- Treatment plan
- Financial presentation
Arrive no later than 10-15 minutes before your scheduled appointment to complete any subsequent documentation.
- Ease concerns
- Stay attentive during visit
- Ask appropriate questions
- Leave with a better understanding of your oral health
Step 1: Dental X-rays
Patient vitals and dental x-rays will be completed first. A full-mouth x-ray series consists of a panoramic x-ray and 18-20 individual x-rays.
- Panoramic X-ray: Gives a broad view of teeth, jaw, sinuses, and bone structure, including wisdom teeth, by rotating around your head for 20 seconds.
- Individual X-rays: Focused images (bitewing and periapical) to check for specific problems like decay, fractures, infections, and other dental issues in specific teeth or areas.
Full mouth radiographic x-ray series occur every 3-5 years, and individual x-rays occur yearly or as directed by your clinician.
Related: Learn more about dental x-rays
Step 2: Periodontal (Gum) Evaluation
The periodontal evaluation, or gum measurements, will be completed by the dentist or a registered hygienist. They may inquire about your brushing habits, dental history, and overall oral health. They will screen for two gum diseases; gingivitis and periodontal disease.Related: Read more about Prophylaxis
- Gingivitis: Inflamed, bleeding gums without bone loss. It’s manageable and reversible.
- Periodontal Disease: Gum inflammation with bone loss. It’s not reversible and linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Managing it is crucial.
The clinician will use a periodontal probe (millimeter measuring tool) to evaluate the space below your gums, and the dental assistant will document a series of numbers. Then, the dentist will discuss scaling and root planing if periodontal disease is present.
Periodontal Probe Measurement Guide
- 1-3 mm: shallow pockets and gum tissue is tight around the tooth
- 4-5 mm: attachment below the gum line may be failing
- 6-7 mm: attachment is compromised and bone loss may be occurring
- 8 mm: advanced gum disease is present and immediate attention is needed
Step 3: Intraoral & Extraoral Exams
The dentist may palpate under your jaw, behind your ears, and around your neck to look for abnormalities. Inform your dentist if you smoke, use chewing tobacco, consume alcohol, or have a family history of oral cancer. Early detection is key to long-term success.
- Floor of the mouth (below tongue)
- Soft palate
- Hard palate
- Gum tissue
Step 4: Teeth Evaluation
Teeth evaluation consists of visual, tactile, and radiographic assessment. This examination allows the clinician to diagnose any treatment.
Many dentists use magnification loupes up to 3.5x to better visualize the teeth and surrounding gum tissue. Next, the dentist may use a dental instrument (explorer) to screen for cavities. If the explorer sticks, a cavity may be present.
Learn more about cavities and how dentists manage them in the article below.
Related: Learn more about Cavities
Step 5: Treatment Planning
Treatment planning and patient understanding are best when the dentist and patient communicate actively.
After the dentist sits you up and explains their findings, they will discuss treatment options and alternatives. It’s essential to understand why treatment is recommended before moving forward. The patient can lose trust if you cannot visualize the problem or understand the issue.
The dentist can easily visualize many problems for the patient between the x-rays, periodontal probings, and intraoral pictures.
Recommended Reading: Top 5 Best All-Natural Whitening Toothpaste
If you are confused or unsure why treatment is necessary, now is the time to ask any questions.
Step 6: Financial Presentation
The financial presentation occurs between the patient and the treatment coordinator. If you have insurance, verify that it’s active and apply for treatment estimates.
The dentist should prioritize the treatment based on your chief complaint, such as treating a painful tooth before replacing a missing tooth.
Be sure the dentist addresses your complaint!
The dentist should discuss treatment alternatives along with financial considerations.
An efficient dental team will have a seamless handoff between the dentist and the treatment coordinator to eliminate confusion.
Related: Best MDA Recommended Products
My Experience & Expertise
After your visit, it’s essential to evaluate your experience.
- Was the dental practice accessible and accommodating for your schedule?
- Was the dental team welcoming and considerate of your experience?
- Is the dental practice clean, well lit, organized and efficient?
- Was the hygienist thorough and understanding?
- Did the dentist address your chief complaint?
- Was the dentist empathetic and conscientious of your time?
- Was the treatment plan clear and concise?
- Is the financial commitment realistic?
- How did the visit make you feel?
Need a second opinion? We can help! Learn more. Knowledge is power when cultivating healthy dental habits. The more informed you are, the better positioned you’ll be to prevent avoidable and potentially costly dental procedures for you and your family. Watch for future blog posts, where we’ll continue sharing important information, product reviews and practical advice!
About the Author
Dr. Matthew Hannan, also known as “Dr. Advocate,” is a board-certified dentist on a mission to provide accurate dental patient education. He attended Baylor University before completing dental school at UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry. He now lives in Arizona with his beautiful wife and 4 kids. Dr. Hannan believes everyone should access easy-to-read dental resources with relevant, up-to-date dental research and insight to improve their oral health.
Connect with Dr. Hannan!
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