Exams & Dental Visits


When you visit a family dentist, the dentist and/or the dental hygienist will conduct a dental examination. This will include: (1) a soft tissue examination, (2) a screening and examination for periodontal diseases, (3) a detailed charting of cavities, existing restorations (fillings and crowns), and other tooth conditions, and (4) full mouth x-rays.


The purpose of the soft tissue examination is to detect pathological changes in the tissues that line the inside of the mouth. While the vast majority of pathology in the mouth is benign, precancerous and cancerous changes in the oral tissues may be found. It is best if detected at an early stage when it can be successfully treated. Tobacco and heavy alcohol use are major risk factors for oral cancer. A thorough soft tissue examination should include a visual inspection and finger exploration of the tongue, floor of the mouth (under the tongue), palate (roof of the mouth), salivary glands, insides of the cheek, and the back of the throat. The tongue should be moved to allow for the inspection of its sides and base; the face, head, and neck should also be examined, and any enlarged lymph nodes identified.


In an examination for periodontal diseases, your dentist or hygienist should use a periodontal probe to measure the band of gum tissue that surrounds the tooth. The purpose of this examination is to detect gum disease at the early stages when prevention is most effective.


The third aspect of a complete dental examination is the inspection of every tooth surface for the presence of new decay and the status of existing restorations.


Dental radiographs (x-rays) will assist the dentist in locating disease that cannot be seen by the eye, such as cavities that develop between the teeth or bone loss that occurs beneath the gums.