The Dental Exam

On your first visit to your dentist, you’ll provide your complete medical history. This will give your dentist vital information on any health condition you may have, which can ultimately impact the success of any dental treatments.

Most dental visits are checkups. Regular checkups (ideally every six months) will help your teeth stay clean and last longer, and can prevent painful problems from developing. Read on to find out what to expect at your checkups.


Radiographs, also known as x-rays, are taken and studied so the dentist can have a visual of the inside of your teeth and the condition of your roots and areas between your teeth. This helps your dentist determine bone levels, assess root health, and identify the formation of any cysts or growths that may affect your overall oral health.

A full examination

Next the dentist will do a visual scan of the teeth, gums, and soft tissue and compare it to the radiographs. They will check the condition of the gums and see if there are signs of periodontal disease. Knowing the condition of the gums provides information on the overall health of the supporting structure (gums) that can lead to loosening of the teeth and potential bone and/or tooth loss.

Your dentist will check other areas, such as the tongue, roof of the mouth, hard and soft palates, and floor of the mouth for any visible signs of inflammation or bleeding. The dentist will also be looking for signs of white lesions, blocked salivary glands, suspicious growths, and signs of oral cancer. Your dentist will also check the general condition of the bones in the face, jaws, and around the mouth. This gives your dentist a clear picture of the overall function of your temporomandibular joint (joint that joins your jaw to the skull), and other areas, such as your sinus cavity.

Dentists will examine your neck area, feeling the glands and lymph nodes for possible signs of inflammation, which could be an indicator of other general health conditions. The glands in the neck area are indicators of your general overall health.

Your dentist will also look at the positioning of your teeth, as well as cavities, damaged or missing teeth, and restorations in the mouth, such as root canals or crowns.

Your dentist will explain what they are doing during the examination and provide you with a summary of their findings. If the examination reveals a problem that requires treatment, there should be a two-way discussion about your options. If your dentist identifies a problem that is complex or requires specialized treatment, you may be referred to a dental specialist. As an active part of your oral health team, you’re encouraged to ask questions.

Your dental exam checklist

Here are some important things your dentist looks at during an exam:

  • Medical history outlining any health conditions
  • Radiographs (x-rays)
  • Gum condition
  • Early signs of oral cancer or other suspicious growths or cysts
  • Overall health and function of your temporomandibular joint (joint that joins your jaw to the skull)
  • Condition of current restorations, root canals, and crowns
  • Position of the teeth — spacing and your bite
  • Damaged, missing, or decayed teeth
  • Proper growth and development in children
  • General condition of the bones in the face, jaw, and around the mouth