Haven't Been to the Dentist in Years? Don't Stress. Here is What to Expect

Haven't Been to the Dentist in Years? Don't Stress. Here is What to Expect
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Haven't Been to the Dentist in Years? Don't Stress. Here is What to ExpectClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. How Often Should You See Your Dentist?
  2. What to Expect
  3. Tips to Prepare
  4. Average Costs
  5. Tips for Dental Anxiety
  6. References

Most people realize that regular dental visits are needed to keep their mouths healthy, but that doesn't mean everyone sticks to the regimented, once- or twice-a-year schedule that dentists like the patients to keep. More than 40 percent of Americans admit they do not see their dentist on an annual or bi-annual schedule.

If all you have done each visit is get your teeth cleaned and occasionally have new sets of X-rays taken, with no surprise cavities or other issues to deal with, you might wonder just how important these checkups are. The answer: You’ll find out when you stop and then return, only to find an issue has arisen that is no longer new.

There’s only one thing worse than walking into a dental office for the first time in years: not going at all.

Unfortunately, too many seniors citizens decline trips to the dentist for the simple reason that since its creation in 1965, Medicare has never provided dental coverage. That could change with recent upgrades to the federal program.

In addition, many others in the United States – and around the world – were forced to put dental appointments because of office restrictions and personal safety precautions for more than year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How Often Should You See Your Dentist?

The United States Dental Profession recommends adults and children see a dentist every six months. Each visit should include an examination of the mouth, teeth and gums and a cleaning.

Most dental insurance plans provide coverage for bi-annual visits (although not usually at 100 percent). By you sitting under your dentist’s bright light and having a hygienist clean your teeth twice a year, your dentist should be able to pinpoint any potential problems while they are small – and more affordable to treat.

If you have any kind of history with your dentist, you will have several sets of records in your file, including multiple X-rays and cleaning reports. That means your dentist knows your teeth better than anyone, and they will discuss how often you should schedule your visits.

Although dental office managers schedule patients every six months, certain conditions require more periodic checkups. Dentists like to see patients more frequently if:

  • They smoke
  • They have cancer
  • Are pregnant
  • Have diabetes
  • Have a heart condition

What to Expect

If you have not visited your dentist for several years, your first time back will be a bit different from regular visits. You can plan on experiencing:

  • A more thorough (and probably more time-consuming) oral exam
  • A full set of X-rays
  • A more sustained scraping and cleaning process
  • More bleeding than usual
Extended Cleaning
If your teeth have not had a professional cleaning by your dentist's hygienist for several years, an extended cleaning will be necessary on your first visit back. The extra cleaning will be necessary to remove the significant amount of plaque that has settled on your teeth' surfaces. The hygienist will have to clean each tooth to remove this buildup.
Comprehensive Oral Exam
Once the hygienist has cleaned your teeth, the dentist will check for cavities or any sign of periodontal disease. Another check is done for oral cancer. If you have not seen your dentist in at least 18 months, the exam will have to be more in-depth and will take a longer time to complete.
Dental X-rays

Radiographs, or X-rays, represent an important tool for your dentist. They’re central to diagnosing your oral health issues.

A series of X-rays will help your dentist see any underlying problems that hide out of sight. Typically, a patient has X-rays on file that the dentist will compare the new ones too and see if any changes have occurred over the years. If there are not any old ones on file, then the new ones will provide a source of information for future appointments.

Gum Bleeding

A small but important part of your checkup is when the hygienist flosses between your teeth after they’re clean. If you haven’t been flossing at home between visits, your gums are almost certain to bleed.

It can be unnerving, but it does not indicate any problems. Gums bleed if they are not used to the pressure of the floss when the hygienist moves it between your teeth. This symptom can be reduced if you floss at home.

It won’t phase the hygienist, but they’ll pay attention to it. Sometimes when gums bleed, it is a sign of periodontal disease. The risk of periodontal disease is another reason you should have regular dental checkups.

Once the hygienist has completed the cleaning, and your dentist has completed the oral examination, they will discuss what is needed to maintain your oral health. If your teeth and gums are in good health, a schedule for future checkups will be set up, if there are issues found, an appointment will be made to address them.

Tips to Prepare for a Dental Appointment

Many people experience a certain amount of anxiety when they have an upcoming dental appointment. There are tips for you to use to help reduce anxiety for your next appointment.

  • Talk to your dental staff about your anxiety and what you are concerned about
  • While in the chair, you should focus on your breathing to remain relaxed
  • Ask the staff if they have headphones you can use to listen to music to distract yourself from what the dental team is doing
  • Before your appointment, you should avoid foods and drinks with caffeine, which tends to make people more jittery
  • Set up hand signals with your dentist that you can use if you need a break during work or want to ask questions

Average Cost of a Dental Visit

A typical visit to your dentist for a comprehensive exam, X-rays and a professional cleaning will cost between $150 to $350. If it has been some years since you've visited the dentist and require restorative treatments, the costs will be higher. Check with your dental insurer to understand what it covers, what it does not and how much you can expect to pay out-of-pocket.

If your visit to the dentist consists of only a cleaning, you can expect to pay between $70 to $200. Costs will depend on your provider and where you live.

If you have not seen your dentist in some time, your teeth may require root planing and scaling to address any gingivitis or gum disease. That will add to the cost, as will any additional procedures that are needed. Talk to your dentist before treatments to learn what the estimated costs will be in your area.

Dental Anxiety Tips

The reason you have not visited your dentist on a regular schedule may be because of dental anxiety, and fear of sitting in a dental chair. For some people, dental anxiety ramps up to the point where it prevents them getting the regular checkups needed to maintain oral health. It is possible to overcome your fear of visiting the dentist so you can ensure your oral health needs are met. Here are tips to help you overcome your fear and keep your next appointment:

  1. Use technology: In today's dental clinics, technology is often used to help patients through their dental work and exams. Ask your dental team about providing you with music to listen to or a TV to watch that will distract your attention from the dental work being done. Increasingly, doctors are embracing virtual reality to keep their patients calm.
  2. Take a friend or family member: Don't go to your dental appointment alone if you experience high anxiety. Having someone who cares about you at the appointment will help your remain calmer.
  3. Ask about sedation options: or many dental patients, the use of nitrous oxide and oral sedatives helps them get through complicated dental procedures.
  4. Ask questions: Don't be afraid to ask your dentist questions. Fear of the unknown can be a powerful force, but knowing exactly what procedure is being done inside your mouth can help relieve your stress.
  5. Ask for breaks: This is a big one because most people don’t ever think it is an option. But it is. If you feel you need time to regain your composure, ask your dentist for a break. This is a good time to talk about what is being done, and perhaps ask how much longer the work will last.

Dentists today go to great lengths to make their offices welcoming. They make it one of their missions to ensure that your visit is as painless as possible. You are not only a patient for them but you are also a customer. And the dentist wants repeat business.

Talk to your dentist about any anxiety you have, and how they can help you maintain the best oral health possible.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.