A thorough dental exam is not just all about teeth. After listening to your concerns the hygienist or dentist will examine your face and neck for any blemishes or growths that might suggest a skin problem. Then he will carefully feel your TMJ (jaw) joint right in front of your ears for any unusual shape or clicking and popping when you open.
Next she will feel along the bottom of your jaw and the muscles in your neck to detect any lymph nodes or swelling or sore areas. Next, the dentist will ask you to open and close a few times to look for bite problems and jaw movements. Next she will continue to examine your “soft tissue” (not hard teeth yet) by feeling along your lips, cheek, roof and floor of your mouth.
After that, she may lightly wrap a piece of gauze at the tip of your tongue to gently lift it to look along the sides and underneath. All of this takes just a moment or two and could detect something far more serious that a cavity!
All of the above is called a soft tissue exam and we are mainly looking for oral cancer or other important diseases that often can show oral signs.
The second part of a thorough dental exam does not yet involve your teeth but your gums! Gum disease of one degree or another is present in the majority of general population. It involves the normal space between the tooth and gem slowly collecting bacterial plaque (tarter) and causing the gum tissue to strip away from the healthy tooth root surface causing a gum “pocket”.
When these pockets form, your toothbrush can no longer reach the plaque down deep in the pocket and gum inflammation will then proceed, causing the supporting bone to slowly dissolve away from the tooth roots. This process can take years and not even cause any pain until far advanced when teeth get loose or are lost.
The dentist checks your gum health by visually examining your tissue and with a small measuring probe she can quickly measure the space between your teeth and gums looking for those beginning “pockets”. You may hear the dentist or hygienist calling out a series of numbers to be written down as she measures and these are gum space depths.
Listen for any numbers greater than “4″ which may indicate an early problem.
And last, the dentist will examine each and every one of your teeth. We begin doing this with a small instrument called an “explorer” for we are exploring all of the tooth surface for irregularities like cavity pits or breaks in the enamel or fractures of an old filling.
When this part of the exam is complete, there is one more vitally important step and that is reading your x-rays to obtain the rest of the required information your dentist needs to make an accurate diagnosis of your dental condition to begin to formulate a treatment plan to bring you back to oral health.