Health: true or false?

Oral health: how often should you go to the dentist's?

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 April, 2015, 6:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 April, 2015, 1:00pm

Q: Do you really have to visit the dentist every six months?

The straight answer: No

The facts:

You've heard that visiting the dentist every six months is essential to good oral health. To those of us who are afraid of getting dental check-ups, that's probably too often, but even if we don't mind going to the dentist, we may wonder if biannual visits are really necessary.

"There is nothing to support this idea that you must visit your dentist every six months," says Dr Paul Leung, dental surgeon at Dr Paul Leung Dental Clinic in Central, "although such a rule might apply to someone with an average risk of cavities or periodontal disease".

If your teeth and gums are in relatively good shape, and you don't have any serious oral health issues, then there's no need.

Dental diseases such as cavities and periodontal disease, which causes the destruction of the bone that surrounds the root of the tooth and can lead to loose teeth, are related to bacteria. When you go for a standard dental check-up, the main thing your dentist should be evaluating is how well you care for your teeth at home. In other words, how effective is your brushing and flossing technique in minimising plaque and tartar build-up? Plaque is the soft, sticky film of bacteria that forms on the surface of your teeth. Tartar, on the other hand, is a form of hardened dental plaque.

If your dentist deems you a high-risk patient for dental disease, then it makes sense to go for regular check-ups. "Your chance of having a dental disease is high, and so is our chance of detecting disease," says Leung. "You are therefore someone who'll benefit from early detection. If we detect something early enough, there's less chance of you needing to get invasive treatment later down the road."

It is best to ask your dentist how often you should see him, since the frequency of your visits depends on the health of your teeth and gums. For example, a high-risk patient would benefit from more frequent visits every three months and a low-risk patient can afford to visit every 12 to 18 months.

"However, it is very important not to make this assessment yourself because only a dentist or dental hygienist is qualified to do this," says Leung. "It is my experience that many patients believe they are taking care of their teeth better than they actually are."

It is possible for you to preserve your teeth throughout your lifetime, but it does require some effort on your part, including dental visits as required to make sure that your teeth are free of disease.

The effort is worthwhile because your teeth are important, and the loss of just a few teeth can significantly lower your quality of life.