What to expect at a dental exam

October 14, 2021

What to Expect at a Dental VisitDental appointments are an important part of your child’s overall health. But sometimes life gets in the way and we don’t visit as regularly as we should. So if you are getting your child ready for their first visit, or haven’t stopped by your dentist in a while, here’s what to expect at your child’s next dental visit and what topics might come up as you chat with your dental provider.

When to visit the dentist

If your child is having pain, it’s time to call the dentist immediately. If your child has no oral health concerns and good tooth care, when you visit can vary from dentist to dentist. As a general rule, you want to have your child’s first dental visit shortly after you see their first tooth emerge and regular visits every 6 months. If it’s time for a first dental visit for your child, check out our first visit page for tips on how to be ready!

What to expect at a dental visit when your child is age 1 and under

It might seem odd to start visiting a dentist when your child has only a couple of teeth, but think of it as preventative and educational. Your provider will ask questions about your child’s oral and overall health as well as eating and drinking habits. This helps the provider determine the risks of tooth decay. They will also look for sores and bumps and make sure your child’s teeth and jaw are growing correctly.

You might need to hold your child for the exam and cleaning. If your child is calm and happy the exam and cleaning will go much smoother. After the exam, the provider will clean your child’s teeth with a wet toothbrush or cloth. This is a good time to ask any questions you might have about keeping your child’s mouth healthy.

Some topics your provider might bring up include thumb-sucking and pacifiers as they relate to your child’s tooth development and baby bottle tooth decay.

Toddler and school-age kids dental visits

Most routine visits will follow the same schedule of exam and then cleaning. As your child get a little older, the exams will include different types of x-rays to help your provider determine if your child’s teeth are fitting/growing correctly and how the jaw is forming. Plus a focus on good gum care and making sure the gums are healthy.

The cleanings will change as your child ages as well. This will include removing plaque buildup, brushing and flossing. Sealants are also an important tool in maintaining your child’s oral health. These are thin coatings that protect the teeth and can help prevent cavities for years. After the exam and reading the x-rays, your provider might recommend other treatments or need to repair cavities and other tooth decay.

Sugary foods and drinks are not the only things that can affect your child’s oral health. Thumb-sucking and nail-biting can affect how teeth form. If your child plays sports, your provider will be able to recommend quality mouthguards to keep your child’s teeth safe.

What to expect at a dental visit with teens

Dental visits with teens won’t differ much from dental visits with younger kids.

Some of the topics your provider might bring up are the oral health impacts of drinking sugary beverages, smoking, eating disorders, and not wearing a mouthguard during sports.

Around age 16 is when dentists will start to see wisdom teeth emerging. If wisdom teeth are coming in properly, and there is enough room to support them, they can grow in and should be taken care of the same as the other teeth. If they are causing pain or will damage other teeth as they grow in, they will need to be removed. Wisdom teeth removal would be done at a separately scheduled appointment.

Braces might also come up as your child ages. The purpose of braces is to properly align the teeth and jaw. This will create a more even bite as well as create a straighter smile. Braces are installed and maintained by an orthodontist. If you’re thinking your child needs braces, keep in mind that good oral hygiene habits are important when you have braces. This includes brushing and flossing as cavities can still form while there are braces on teeth. Good tooth care is essential before braces because the braces are going to need even more care.

At this stage, your child might start having questions for their provider about oral hygiene. Teens might be interested in whitening their teeth, or what is involved in getting braces. If your child has an oral piercing that might affect the teeth, your provider will also talk about how those might affect oral health.

Teens (and some younger kids) might start showing signs of temporomandibular joint disorders or TMJ disorder. There are many causes and symptoms of TMJ disorders. Some treatments include getting an over-the-counter occlusal guard or night splint, plus at-home care including exercise and hot or cold packs.

After the visit

When the visit is over, you should get some kind of post-appointment instructions, even if it is just to keep up the good work of brushing and flossing. If your child had work done, or sealants or fluoride put on their teeth, be sure a follow the instructions carefully and if you see anything concerning to call your dentist.

And schedule your child’s next visit

Before you leave the dentist, it’s always good to get your child’s next appointment scheduled. By having them on a 6-month schedule your dental provider will be able to detect problems early and help keep your child’s smile healthy for years to come!