When was the last time you saw your dentist? While there’s no hard-and-fast rule about how often adults should go, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that we keep up with routine cleanings and dental examinations, with the frequency of these checkups usually depending on how well we keep up with our dental hygiene at home.
“The standard recommendation for most people is to go every six months for a checkup and cleaning,” says Sara Gordon, DDS, MS, professor of oral medicine at the University of Washington School of Dentistry. “If someone is in otherwise good oral and systemic health, dentists might recommend going every year. But that’s the minority.”
More than 100 million Americans don’t make it for their routine cleaning and exam each year. One of the most common reasons for that is anxiety. Some people have actual phobias of the dentist. Others are nervous about the cascade effect of potential dental issues, especially if they haven’t been to the dentist in a while.
“I find that most patients avoid the dentist out of fear that they may have cavities they will need to treat, or fear that they will be uncomfortable during their checkup,” says Heather Kunen, DDS, MS, an orthodontist and co-founder of Beam Street, a New York City–based walk-in dental clinic.
If you’ve ever brought your car in for an oil change, only for the mechanic to find an early sign of another issue, you know how valuable keeping up with your maintenance routine can be. The same is true in dental care. Dentists are trained to watch for subtle signs of potential issues in areas of the mouth you can’t see. And when you’re feeling a symptom like a toothache, it’s often too late, since some degree of damage has already been done.
“In medicine, we have the concept of signs and symptoms — signs are what you and your provider see, and symptoms are what you feel. If I see a sign of something, it’s before the patient feels the negative effects and develops symptoms,” says Matt Messina, DDS, assistant professor at the Ohio State University College of Dentistry and clinic director at…