During a check-up appointment, your dentist will count around your teeth and make a note of any fillings that are present, any teeth that are missing and any wee holes in your teeth or areas that they want to keep an eye on. Your dentist will start at one side of your mouth, say top right, at the back, and count around until they reach top left at the back. Then they will move to lower left at the back and count around until they reach lower right, at the back. This means that they don’t miss any teeth.
Why does the dentist want to poke at my teeth? The dental ‘probe’ or ‘explorer’ can be used by your dentist to gently feel the bumps and valleys on the surface of the tooth. If your dentist notices any ‘tackiness’ on the surface of the tooth, it might be a soft area which would indicate decay is present.
Unfortunately these areas of early decay may not show up on an x-ray.
Your dentist may also have a small handheld camera with which they can take close-up pictures of your teeth and then display them on a screen. These pictures can be used to explain things more thoroughly so you can see what is actually happening in your mouth. If you can’t stand the thought of looking at your teeth, please let your dentist know!
X-rays are still an important part of any dental examination to help diagnose any problems under the surface or around the foundations of the teeth.
These x-rays provide valuable information that your dentist could not detect otherwise. X-rays can detect cavities between the teeth, and can depict approximately how deep a cavity extends relative to the nerve. They can also help diagnose Periodntal Disease, Abscesses, cysts, tumors, developmental abnormalities and infections in the bone.
These are usually taken by having you bite on a small tab which steadies the x-ray film in your mouth while the dentist positions the x-ray beam so that they can take the picture (bitewing x-rays). The x-ray beam looks exactly like a telescope. It’s usually on the end of a mechanical arm so it can be adjusted to get it close to the x-ray film for the best picture. It’s because the x-rays travel in a straight line that often there’s no need to wear heavy lead aprons any more. The x-ray films that you hold in your mouth aren’t terribly mouth shaped and some patients find them uncomfortable, but they’re usually over fairly quickly. These films are made of soft plastic and are about 3cm x 4cm in size, although smaller ones are available. The smaller x-ray films do not show as many teeth however and your dentist might have to take more pictures then. To hold the film in your mouth your dentist will ask you to gently close your teeth together on to a small paper tab or plastic holder whilst the film is in your mouth. If you feel something soft, like a sausage, between your teeth it might be your dentist’s finger! Please resist the urge to bite too hard…
Our Surgery has digital x-rays which will come up on a computer screen much more quickly than the normal x-ray developer. The film placed in your mouth tends to be slightly bulkier, however the radiation dose is much smaller than routine dental x-rays (even though the dose of radiation of normal x-rays is low too).
Your dentist will also take an OPG x-ray, this machine can take a picture of all your teeth at once (panoramic). This involves sitting or standing still whilst the machine slowly rotates around your head. It will not touch you at any point. The picture it provides is a useful overview of your teeth and bones but is no substitute really for the smaller close-up films.