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Preventative Dentistry

Regular exams and dental cleanings are some of the most important things you can do for your oral health.

About the author, Dr. Stella Kim

The materials on this page were prepared and medically reviewed by Dr. Stella Kim, DDS, a San Francisco dentist and a graduate of the UCSF School of Dentistry.

Do you like getting expensive dental treatments that require you to sit for long hours with your mouth open? We didn’t think so! That’s why regular preventative dental care is critically important to your oral health.

happy tooth

The main elements of effective preventative dental care

Preventative dental care starts at home but also includes regular dental check-ups:

  • Brushing and flossing: You should be brushing twice and flossing at least once a day, possibly more, depending on the specifics of your oral health. We will review proper technique at your appointment and make recommendations based on your particular needs.
  • Dental exams: When you come into SF Dental, the dentist will take a look at your teeth to check for any potential issues. It’s always more cost-effective and less painful for you if we catch dental problems early, before you have noticeable symptoms. In addition to looking for cavities, gum disease, and other common dental issues, we also check for warning signs of cancer or other systemic diseases that can show up in the mouth.
  • Cleanings: The dentist or hygienist will remove plaque or tartar buildup from your teeth and thoroughly clean the mouth and gums. This helps to make up for anything you might have missed during home care. Fluoride varnish or other treatments may be used, depending on your oral health needs.
  • Digital x-rays: Some problems can only be seen through the use of x-rays. You don’t need to take x-rays at each appointment, but the dentist will tell you when it’s necessary. Certain patients are resistant to the idea of x-rays, but you should know that these fears are unfounded. Modern digital x-rays are very safe and provide only a miniscule dose of radiation, similar to what you would get naturally by taking a flight across the country. The benefits of taking periodic dental x-rays vastly exceed the virtually non-existent radiation exposure.

How often do I need to get dental cleanings and exams?

For most people, the standard recommendation is twice a year, and the vast majority of dental insurance plans will cover this frequency. If you are generally healthy and don’t have many dental issues, coming in every six months is usually sufficient to prevent major problems from cropping up.

However, please be aware that patients with existing oral health problems often need to come in more frequently, possibly three or four times per year. The dentist will make recommendations to you based on your specific needs. The purpose of these extra visits is always to save you from more extensive (and expensive) dental treatments further down the road. It’s always better to catch cavities and gum disease early.

How should I prepare for my dental exam?

The best thing you can do is keep up a good routine of brushing and flossing.

It’s also important for you to be honest with us about your oral hygiene habits. Don’t be embarrassed to tell us the truth—trust us, we’ve seen worse! Your dentist can usually tell if your brushing or flossing has not been optimal, so honesty is the best policy. It helps us to come up with the best advice and treatment plan for your health.

In addition to spotting common dental issues like cavities, gingivitis, periodontitis, and teeth grinding (bruxism), your preventative exam can often find symptoms of the following diseases, among others:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Sleep apnea
  • Respiratory issues

In many cases, dentists are the first to discover the warning signs of these serious diseases, and early detection is key to optimizing health outcomes. If we spot something, we will make a referral to your medical doctor for further treatment.

Do children with baby teeth need to come in for dental exams?

Yes. Some parents think that because baby teeth eventually fall out, they don’t really matter. Nothing could be further from the truth! Problems that develop in your child’s baby teeth can spread throughout the mouth and into the adult teeth. These problems can also inhibit proper oral development in the younger years.

Your child should come in for an initial visit after the first tooth comes out but no later than his or her first birthday. We’ll provide preventative care advice specific to your child’s needs.

Further reading