When I meet someone new at the practice, typically our first visit is a comprehensive exam. A comprehensive exam is more than what you’ll experience every time you come in for a regular cleaning because it is my first time meeting you. Because we are starting without any previous information, the Comprehensive Exam is our opportunity to take a look at everything. Not just your teeth, but you as a whole human being with thoughts and feelings, interconnecting whole body systems, and different habits and experiences. All of these play into your oral health. In turn, your oral health can impact your entire body, impacting how you feel about yourself and go about your day.
Why Haven’t I Had This Type of Dental Experience Before?
I am an unrestricted dentist, which means I am not “in-network” with any insurance – that means I am able to spend the time with my patients to really get a picture of them, their health, and how they feel about their teeth. I’m not bound to the rules and restrictions that insurance companies place on dentists, but rather I can spend the time needed to do a complete job. I can make my recommendations based on your interests and your goals as opposed to what insurance dictates.
Our Medical and Dental Questionnaire
Our Comprehensive Exam starts before you step in the door with a thorough medical and dental questionnaire. By looking at certain answers you give me, I can start to put together a picture of potential problems and risk factors. I’m putting together things like ‘this person is probably grinding teeth at night’ or ‘this person is at a high risk for tooth decay and we need to address that’, or ‘this person has high blood pressure so I really need to emphasize gum health’.
I also take a look at any previous x-rays you’ve sent over from other offices, which is helpful to understand your history with dental work. If you’re 60 years old and have had one filling, odds are you’re not going to have any tooth decay and I can allocate our time accordingly.
Gathering the Data
When you come in for your appointment we start gathering all the data. If you haven’t had a full mouth series of x-rays in a while, we’ll go ahead and take that. A full mouth series, or FMX for short, is a series of films that shows every single tooth and all the roots of every tooth in your mouth. The radiation from this is low – about the amount you get from taking a cross country flight. We take digital x-rays, so compared to non-digital, we’re able to reduce the amount of radiation by half in comparison. Sometimes we’ll see tooth infections or signs of oral cancer with the radiographs. We also use them to look for tooth decay and the health of the bone that supports teeth.
Then we take photos with a camera as a snapshot of the health of your teeth today. This also helps if I need to go back later to review your treatment plan and records. These photos stay private in our system, so no need to dress up. 🙂
We’re starting to implement our intraoral scanner as well to document your teeth in 3D. What this allows us to do is analyze your teeth year by year and monitor tooth movement, tooth wear, and gum recession in ways we’ve never been able to before. We have started doing this with some patients, but in the future we will likely be scanning everyone when we meet them. Afterall, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a 3D model is worth – well, you do the math.
An In-Depth Conversation About Health and Addressing Dental Anxiety
After gathering all the baseline imaging, I sit down to talk with you about your medical and dental questionnaire. If you have marked down that you’ve had bad experiences in the past or dental anxieties – we have a conversation about how we can make your visits easier. Sometimes we can solve so much anxiety by just giving more anesthetic than usual right from the get go. We can reduce the noise of our handpieces by using noise canceling headphones that we have in the office. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have time for a conversation. It really makes a difference.
Mapping Your Gum Health
Once I have a complete picture of your health challenges and dental goals, I set the chair back to take a look at gums. At Piatt Park Dental, we map out your gums completely. That means we are measuring the pocket depths of the spaces between your tooth and your gums, documenting gum inflammation, recording gum recession, and looking for tooth mobility. Gum health is the foundation of your teeth and has one of the biggest impacts on your overall health. It’s not glamorous, but it’s one of the most important things I do every day. Poor gum health is a contributor to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. It has also been heavily implicated in the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The TMJ, Temporomandibular Joint, or “Jaw Joint” is one of the most complex joints in the body because it both rotates and moves forward and back. Bite issues with the TMJ and muscles can cause excessive wear on teeth, loosening teeth, and contributing to muscle and joint pain. It’s important to have a clear picture of how the TMJ is doing and take that into consideration when proposing any treatment.
Oral Cancer Screening
The oral cancer screening is another important aspect of the Comprehensive exam. I take a look at your scalp, skin, lips, and under your jaw. I’ve found lumps under the jaw that have turned out to be cancer so I don’t skip that part. I check all of the areas of your mouth for strange spots, bumps, or lumps. Most of the time it’s pretty uneventful, but oral cancer can move quickly and be life-altering and life-threatening. This is one of the most important parts of being a dentist and not to be skipped.
THEN We Look at Teeth
All of the information gathered up to this point helps me put the teeth in context. I record every restoration you currently have and the size and material it’s made out of. We document all tooth wear, tooth decay, and spots that are starting to decay. It’s also important to document fracture lines in teeth which are common around aging silver fillings. With all that information and input from you I can put together a plan. I give recommendations and make it a point to show you what I’m seeing and what you can expect if we do nothing vs doing something. I also try to give a relative sense of urgency. If something needs to be done next week, I’ll let you know. If there is something small it’s always best to address it right away, but often the outcome isn’t too different now vs a few months from now. I understand that people have a lot going on in their lives and I try to give you a good sense of when in addition to the what and why.
A Personalized Plan for Prevention
Most dentists stop here, but I go above and beyond in my exams. I want to know how you got where you are so we can prevent problems in the future. I don’t want people coming in every six months with red puffy gums and five more cavities – to me that’s a failure.
We have a conversation together and talk in depth about your current habits. We discuss the best ways to stabilize and minimize your risks, tipping the balance away from disease and back toward health. Together we come up with your personalized prevention plan. This gets printed out for you to take home and reference.
An Uncommon Approach
A Comprehensive Exam is more than just a teeth check for cavities. Taking a look at every aspect of a person’s health and gathering the data is the best way to approach treatment and prevention of future disease. I want you to leave our office with a whole new appreciation of how the health of your teeth and gums interact with the rest of your body. We want you to feel comfortable and well taken care of.
The Comprehensive Exam is also the foundation to any predictable cosmetic work or larger dental reconstructions. If you’re trying to recreate your younger smile or trying to achieve a smile you’ve never had, the Comprehensive Exam is the first step on that journey.
I take my role as a dentist and healthcare professional very seriously. I didn’t spend years of my life, ridiculous amounts of money, and all the hours I continue to spend studying my field to be the cheapest dentist or to settle for mediocrity. I became a dentist because I wanted to be the best and to do good things for good people. I am so fortunate that I get to do that every day.
If you’re ready to start your dental wellness journey, want to discover your best smile, or are simply interested in becoming a patient, give us a call or text at 513-241-1477, or feel free to schedule online by clicking right here. Thank you for listening and I look forward to taking care of you!