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The dentist will look in your mouth for things that can affect your oral - and your overall - health. Many of these are things you can't see on your own, but that a dentist is trained to detect. Here is some of what your dentist is looking for during a dental exam:

  • damaged, missing or decayed teeth

  • early signs of cavities

  • condition of your gums, such as periodontal pockets, inflammation or other signs of gum disease (which can lead to tooth and bone loss)

  • to see how previous dental work such as root canals, fillings and crowns are holding up

  • early signs of mouth or throat cancer, such as white lesions or blocked salivary glands

  • other suspicious growths or cysts

  • position of your teeth (e.g., spacing, bite)

  • signs that you clench or grind your teeth (a treatable problem that can cause headache or sore jaw and can, if serious, lead to hearing loss and tooth loss)

  • signs of bleeding or inflammation on your tongue and on the roof or floor of your mouth

  • the overall health and function of your temporomandibular joint (which joins the jaw to skull), checking for signs of disorders that can cause pain or tenderness

  • the general condition of the bones in your face, jaw and around your mouth

At your first appointment, your dentist will ask you for your medical history. As part of this dialogue, there are a number of things you should make your dentist aware of.

Some of these include: 


  • Any medical conditions you may have. These can affect your dental care and treatment.

  • Any medications you are taking. Some side effects can affect the conditions in your mouth.

  • If you are pregnant.

  • If you have any allergies.

  • Any changes you noticed in your teeth or gums, such as looseness or bleeding when you brush.

  • Any sensitivity to heat or cold.

  • If you smoke or chew tobacco.

  • If you are aware of clenching or grinding your teeth, or if your neck or jaw muscles are too tight.

  • If you’re nervous about going to the dentist. New technologies and processes have made dentistry more comfortable for patients. Talking to your dentist may reassure you and help you feel more relaxed.


The dental exam can catch problems early - before you see or feel them - when they are much easier and less expensive to treat.

As well as the visual inspection of your mouth, the exam may also include:

  • an examination of your neck area, with the dentist feeling the glands and lymph nodes for possible signs of inflammation that could indicate general health problems; and

  • dental X-rays, if necessary. These can show such problems as cavities under existing fillings, fractures, impacted wisdom teeth, decay under your gum line and bone loss caused by gum disease.


Dentists provide their patients with dental treatment plans and options for care that best meet their individual needs. By understanding what the dentist is looking for during an exam and speaking with your dentist about your diagnosis you can make informed decisions about your own oral health needs.


Source: The Canadian Dental Association

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