aidarrowcaretcheckclipboardcommenterrorexperienceeyegooglegownmicroscopenavigatepillTimer IconSearchshare-emailFacebookLinkedInTwitterx

When Should You Really Go to the Dentist?

You probably know regular dental cleanings and exams are an important way to keep your pearly whites bright — but oral health can influence your holistic health, which is all the more reason to make (and keep!) those dental appointments. There’s no hard and fast rule about how often to see the dentist. However, following expert guidelines can help prevent dental problems from starting or getting worse. Read on for the big picture on how often you should visit the dentist. 

Do you really have to go once a year for a teeth cleaning?

Along with bad breath and cavities, neglecting your mouth can result in periodontal disease, an infection that starts in your gums and can start to affect the bone beneath the surface. “Regular cleanings and exams can prevent this by eliminating tartar buildup on the teeth, which makes it harder for the patient to clean their own teeth at home,” says Dr. Arthur Jeske, a dentist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Dentistry. 

On top of staving off gum disease, dental visits can catch oral problems early on, preventing costly procedures down the road. Dentists can also identify signs of other diseases that manifest in the mouth, such as cancer and diabetes. 

While Jeske recommends the average patient visit the dentist twice a year, research suggests that many of us can get by with an annual visit. There are exceptions: People with ongoing dental conditions, such as periodontal disease, might need to be seen every three months or more. Other diseases, including diabetes, osteoporosis and HIV/AIDS, can increase the risk of dental problems that need more frequent treatment. 

What issues are especially urgent?

Any time you have prolonged pain in your mouth or around a tooth, you should book an appointment with a dentist right away. “Pain tells us that the nerve of the tooth may be involved, which could result in a root canal,” Jeske says. 

There are a few other, equally serious problems that warrant immediate dental care. If you notice bleeding when you brush or floss, loose teeth, receding gums or mouth sores that won’t go away, make an appointment with your dentist ASAP. The longer you wait, the more likely the condition will advance and you’ll need a costly procedure to alleviate the problem.

What are some dental issues you can just fix at home?

While the aforementioned issues require help from the pros, you don’t need dentists for everything. For instance, consuming coffee or dark soda can discolor those pearly whites over time. If you’re unhappy with any stains on your teeth, you can try over-the-counter whitening strips at home before seeing your dentist for a professional cleaning or whitening treatment. (Just stop using them if you develop increased sensitivity when you consume something hot or cold.)

Bad breath can also be treated at home to a degree by increasing your dental hygiene — brushing and flossing regularly. Regularly using a tongue brush or scraper or a mouth rinse can help remove plaque from your mouth, which may also freshen your breath. If the problem doesn’t get better, bring it up with your dentist at your next appointment.

When in doubt, it’s never a bad idea to contact your dental office about a concern. Building a relationship with your dental care team can also help them better understand your baseline and your needs. The longer you’ve had a relationship with a dentist, as with any health care professional, the faster and more efficient your appointments will be. 

Ready to book a doctor’s appointment? Visit Zocdoc.

About us

The Paper Gown, a Zocdoc-powered blog, strives to tell stories that help patients feel informed, empowered and understood. Views and opinions expressed on The Paper Gown do not necessarily reflect those of Zocdoc, Inc. Learn more.