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How Often Should You Go to the Dentist?

More than 50 years ago, examinations of people entering the military showed that Americans' teeth were in pretty bad shape. Few people took good care of their teeth. There were no guidelines for how often you should see a dentist. Many dentists focused on fixing problems rather than preventing them.

Dental and health organizations decided there was a need to set standards for preventive dentistry. They didn't have much evidence, so they made a "best guess" recommendation. They said people should go to the dentist twice a year for checkups and cleaning because cavities and gum disease are preventable. Some say the first use of the twice-a-year advice actually came from toothpaste ads.

Whatever the origins, this has proven to be a useful rule of thumb for many people. But scheduling regular dental visits really should be based on each person's oral hygiene, habits and medical conditions.

Your dentist can check for problems that you may not see or feel. Many dental problems don't become visible or cause pain until they are in more advanced stages. Examples include cavities, gum disease and oral cancer. Regular visits allow your dentist to find early signs of disease. Problems can be treated at a manageable stage.

The twice-a-year schedule works well for many people. But for most people with a healthy mouth, a once-a-year visit to the dentist is just fine. An example would be someone with no signs of gum disease or cavities within the last two years.

Fluoride in toothpaste, mouth rinses, water, other drinks and even food has slowed down the way cavities develop in your mouth. Fluoride is added to 75% of the public water supplies in the United States. Before water fluoridation, it was fairly common for a cavity to form in less than a year. In most cases, it now takes several years. Therefore, even if you visit less than twice a year, your dentist will usually be able to find cavities when they are still small. In addition, gum disease gets worse very slowly for most people. Your dentists can diagnose it early even if you visit less than twice a year.

People with a high risk of dental disease might need to visit every three or four months, or more. This high-risk group includes:

  • Smokers
  • Pregnant women
  • Diabetics
  • People with current gum disease
  • People with a weak immune response to bacterial infection
  • People who tend to get cavities or build up plaque
  • People who take certain drugs
  • People who are receiving drug therapy (chemotherapy) for cancer
  • People who are receiving radiation therapy for head and neck cancer

The schedule for any person may change during a lifetime. In times of stress or illness, you may need to see the dentist more frequently. The dentist may help you to fight off a temporary infection or treat changes in your mouth.

If you take good care of your teeth and gums at home and your dentist doesn't find any cavities or gum disease for a few years, he or she may choose to lengthen the time between visits. Ask your dentist the best schedule for your routine dental visits.