If you only go to the dentist when you already have signs of a problem, it's more likely that you'll need corrective treatment than someone who has a regular check-up and clean. But how regular is regular?
There's no straightforward answer, as the ideal visiting frequency for you will depend on your individual oral health needs and risk factors. Your dentist may recommend visiting once a year, twice a year or more often if you're undergoing treatment or they want to monitor an ongoing problem.
Read this guide to find out why regular dental visits are important, what visiting pattern could be ideal for you and whether you may already be overdue for a check-up.
Why are regular check-ups important?
Prevention is better than cure when it comes to oral health problems such as tooth decay, gum disease and other infections. Along with tooth brushing, flossing and a healthy diet, regular oral health assessments and hygiene treatments are an important part of a preventive care routine.
Regular examinations make it more likely that your dentist will be able to catch a problem while it's still in an early stage, before pain or other symptoms become obvious and before it causes permanent damage. This can be especially vital if you are in a risk category for oral cancer or you have other health risks.
Treatment for the early stage of tooth decay and gingivitis may simply involve improving your oral hygiene. This can avoid the need for a filling, root canal therapy or other corrective treatments if a problem is allowed to develop for longer.
Professional dental cleans are also recommended as part of a regular dental visit. Cleaning and scaling helps to remove plaque from your teeth that may have been missed when brushing and flossing, while fluoride treatments protect your teeth from further plaque build-up, lowering your oral health risks.
Dentists, hygienists and oral health therapists can also offer expert advice or demonstrations if you have any questions or concerns about your family's oral health or habits.
What are the guidelines?
As oral health needs vary from person to person, there are no standard guidelines for dental visiting frequency in Australia. The national evidence-based recommendation is that the frequency of dental check-ups should reflect individual oral health needs and risk levels.
So, how often do Australians visit the dentist? According to the latest survey of adult oral health, just under half of Australians aged 18 or over (48.8%) said they had a check-up within the past 12 months.
With almost a third (32.1%) having untreated tooth decay, that could lead to permanent cavities or even tooth loss, many Australians could benefit from seeing their dentist more often.
What do dentists recommend?
Some dentists may have a preference for more frequent visits, but most are in agreement on the maximum interval that could put your oral health at risk. Your dentist may also recommend different intervals for different types of appointments.
- Most dentists recommend visits every 6 months, especially if you have a history of oral health problems, as this increases the chance of issues being identified early.
- If you have more complex needs, or an ongoing problem that needs to be monitored, your dentist may advise a shorter recall period, such as every 3 months.
- However, if you have generally good oral health, your dentist may schedule annual check-ups every 12 months. You should still visit the dental clinic earlier if you develop a problem or need advice.
- The longest recommended gap between visits is 2 years, but this is not recommended by most dentists, as there is a higher risk of problems developing.
- Your individual recommendation may change if your oral health status or health risks change or if you change your dentist.
- Teeth cleaning and scaling and fluoride treatments are generally recommended as part of a routine dental visit, every 6 to 12 months.
- These may not be considered necessary if your last dental clean was less than 6 months ago and you don't have signs of plaque or tartar build-up.
- X-rays are recommended every 12 months for most patients to limit unnecessary radiation exposure. Your dentist may also request an x-ray if they are seeing you for the first time.
- Your dentist may recommend additional x-rays if they need to examine your mouth in more detail to help with diagnosing a problem or planning or monitoring your treatment.
- X-rays are not generally recommended for young children or during pregnancy, unless necessary.
Who should see a dentist more often?
Your dentist might recommend visiting more than twice a year if you have a health condition or other factors that increase your risk of developing oral health problems. These factors can include:
- existing dental health issues
- certain medical conditions such as diabetes or a weakened immune system
- smoking or tobacco use
Regular check-ups are also necessary if you are having a long-term treatment such as orthodontics, so your dentist or orthodontist can monitor your progress, make adjustments and provide any assistance needed.
When should children go to the dentist?
Dental recommendations for kids are generally the same as for adults, and many families find it convenient to book their appointments together.
However, six-monthly visits can be especially beneficial for children, as their teeth are still developing and more prone to changes. Smaller and thinner teeth are also more vulnerable to decay, making early detection important for avoiding cavities and the need for fillings.
It's recommended that children first see a dentist around the time of their first birthday or within 6 months of getting their first teeth. This gives their dentist a chance to identify any issues as early as possible. Kids' regular check-ups should begin from the age of 2.
Regular check-ups from an early age can also help kids to get used to visiting the dentist and may help to reduce dental anxiety and improve their oral health as adults.
What to expect during your visit
If you're visiting a dental clinic for the first time, they will request a medical history to highlight any conditions or medications that could affect your oral health or suitability for treatments. You should also tell your dentist if you have dental anxiety or accessibility issues that they need to know about.
When you arrive at the dental clinic, staff will give you any information you need while you wait for your appointment. You will then be shown to the dental surgery where your dentist will make sure you feel comfortable before carefully examining your teeth, gums and mouth. This may involve taking an x-ray to give your dentist a closer look inside your teeth.
Before or after your examination, your dentist or hygienist will professionally clean and scale your teeth to remove built up plaque and gently polish their surface. In modern dental clinics, this is normally done using a painless ultrasonic device. Finally, fluoride may be applied as a barrier against plaque.
Your dentist or hygienist can also give you advice about how to take the best care of your teeth at home. If they find signs of a problem during your check-up, they will recommend suitable treatment options and give you all the information you need to make informed decisions about your dental care.
When should I go to the dentist?
You should now have some idea of when you should visit the dentist for your regular check-ups and whether you're already overdue. You should also book an appointment as soon as possible if you have any concerns about your teeth or oral health, such as:
- Toothache or sensitivity that is severe or lasts longer than a few days
- Swollen or bleeding gums
- Chipped, cracked, loose or knocked out teeth
- Possible signs of an infection
- Jaw pain, locking or clicking
If you need urgent care, contact your dental clinic for advice about managing your symptoms or to see an emergency dentist.
Your dentist might also be able to help with other issues, including teeth straightening with orthodontics, snoring and sleep apnoea treatments, or cosmetic treatments if you want to discuss options for whitening teeth or other enhancements.
To keep your dental visits to a minimum, make sure you and your family take good care of your teeth and gums every day. This includes:
- brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes
- cleaning between your teeth at least once a day
- reducing your sugar intake
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- drinking plenty of water (especially tap water containing fluoride)
- wearing a mouthguard if you play contact sports
Do you need to see a Gold Coast dentist?
If you're due for a check-up and clean or you want to talk to a professional, contact our friendly staff at Robina Town Dental. Our dentists use the latest systems including EMS Airflow® technology to make dental cleaning more comfortable and pain-free.
We see patients from Robina and surrounding areas including Burleigh Heads, Burleigh Waters, Clear Island Waters, Mermaid Waters, Merrimac, Miami, Mudgeeraba, Varsity Lakes and Worongary.
1. The National Oral Health Promotion Clearinghouse. Review of Evidence [Online] 2016 [Accessed November 2021] Available from: https://www.adelaide.edu.au/arcpoh/oral-health-promotion/resources/health-professionals/review-of-evidence/
2. Australian Dental Association (ADA). Australia's Oral Health Tracker [Online] 2020 [Accessed November 2021] Available from: https://www.ada.org.au/Dental-Professionals/Australia-s-Oral-Health-Tracker