Who is the one health care provider you see more than any other? For many people, the answer is: their general dentist. There’s a good reason for that—it’s because general dentistry is uniquely oriented toward the prevention of disease. In fact, it is estimated that nearly 65 percent of all dental procedures are either diagnostic or preventive. By placing a strong emphasis on oral health and hygiene, general dentists help people avoid the progression of oral diseases. If left untreated, these eventually result in pain, lost time at work or school—and an estimated cost of billions of dollars each year.
General dentists are the main providers of dental care to people of all ages. At a routine visit to your family dentist, you will probably have a thorough examination of your mouth (including teeth, gums, and other structures), a professional cleaning, and a discussion about your dental (and overall) health. If your exam reveals the presence of tooth decay, you will probably also have a filling in the affected tooth. Yet these procedures, while common, are hardly the only services your general dentist provides.
Of an estimated 143,000 dentists practicing in North America, some 80 percent are general dentists. Unlike specialists, who are mostly focused on a particular aspect of dental practice, general dentists provide a wide array of services that are vital to your continued health, including:
After completing their undergraduate education, all general dentists have successfully completed four years at an accredited dental school. In addition, they have fulfilled the requirements (including testing and continuing education) of state licensing boards. Some dentists have the initials DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine) following their names, while others have DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery). The only difference between the two is the title used on their dental school’s degrees; their education and training is exactly the same.
In addition to their standard training, some general dentists receive special training in particular areas—for example, implant placement, cosmetic procedures, or other therapies.
The short answer is: every six months for preventative services—and otherwise, whenever you have a concern about your oral health. You may have a clear signal (such as a toothache or bleeding gums) that something in your mouth needs attention. Or, you may have heard of a cosmetic procedure that you’d like to find out more about. In either case, don’t hesitate to call the dental office.
In terms of routine dental appointments, there isn’t a single schedule that fits all patients. Depending on your individual circumstances, your dentist may want to see you twice a year, every three months, or another interval. Whatever it is, don’t let those appointments go! Keeping up with the recommended schedule of preventive treatment and practicing effective oral hygiene at home are the two best ways to prevent dental disease—and keep your smile looking bright and healthy for the rest of your life.