Updated: Apr 17
Have you ever wondered why you need to go see the dentist every 6 months? Or at the very least, you got told that you need to do so but why?
Right now you're probably recalling how you've skipped seeing the dentist during multiple periods of your life and nothing bad ever happened to you. You definitely didn't die, otherwise you'd have no story to tell today. The fact that you're sitting here and reading this is a testament to that.
Nevertheless our purpose here today is to show you both sides of the argument, whether dental check ups are necessary or unnecessary. Then we'll give you our verdict and recommendation for what you should really do in regards to maintaining good oral health, with healthy teeth and healthy gums.
Table of Contents:
Reasons why a dental exam is not needed every 6 months
Actually you may be pleasantly surprised but getting a dental check up every 6 months is what most dentists recommend but it isn't the official stance of the ADA (American Dental Association). The recommendation by the ADA is to just see the dentist "regularly" for the prevention and treatment of various oral diseases.
Here is the infographic from the ADA about homecare recommendations:
In case you weren't convinced, here is another statement from the ADA regarding dental visit frequency.
How often do I go to the dentist?
There is no one-size-fits-all dental treatment. Some people need to visit the dentist once or twice a year; others may need more visits. You are a unique individual, with a unique smile and unique needs when it comes to keeping your smile healthy.
Unfortunately it is not a precise answer if that was what you were looking for. The ADA simply states that the frequency of how often you should get a dental check up may vary because each individual is unique. Their needs are consequently unique to themselves and thus would require personalized care.
In other words, they are leaving the decision up to your oral healthcare provider, your dentist to determine how often you need to get a check up. The frequency interval may vary depending on your personalized needs.
That does make a lot of sense because we all know that one person who never gets a cavity even if they don't have the best oral hygiene. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we all know someone who is just prone to getting cavities regardless of how many times they bush a day. That is real life evidence of differing needs of different individuals
What our dentists see in clinical practice
Based on what we see on a day to day basis at our Long Island City dental practice, we've noticed that different patients have varying rates of tartar build up. Some patients just get a lot more build up than others when they return at exactly 6 months.
They definitely do need to see a dentist every 6 months to have that build up removed. If they waited 12 months to come back, the gums would be severely swollen and bleeding!
What scientific studies have to say about the check up frequency
Multiple scientific studies have actually come out and supported the fact that dental visits every 6 months had fairly weak evidence for doing so. This was probably the reason why the ADA has altered their stance to say that you should go to the dentist regularly but the interval should be personalized to the patient.
This systematic review found that "one size fits all" recall interval for dental check ups had weak evidence. Their recommendation was that the provider should tailor the frequency to the specific patient. In fact they even found evidence that the interval could even be extended for up to 2 years!
There was a Cochrane study which found that there was neither evidence to support nor refute dental check ups at 6 month intervals. They couldn't draw any conclusions regarding altering the frequency interval for beneficial nor harmful side effects.
Last but not least here is one last study which basically recommended that patients should aim for at least one dental check up a year.
Overall, none of the studies said anything about avoiding the dentist or never going. They all recommend that you should get a check up. The only disagreements came upon the specific interval for how often you should go see a dentist. Therefore you can avoid your dentist for a little while sometimes but not forever!
Reasons you should get a dental check up every 6 months
Despite the general recommendation by the ADA and various studies about tailoring the dental check up frequency to the individual, there are merits to getting one every 6 months.
Dental insurance covers check ups and cleanings twice a year
Most dental insurances will cover dental cleanings either every 6 months or twice per calendar year. There are even some insurances that will cover 3-4 cleanings per year.
If your insurance is going to cover it you might as well utilize your benefits to the fullest extent. It makes no sense to not use it if you're paying for it. For that reason alone, we recommend that you do use the maximum number of check ups per year. You get the most value out of it financially.
Nonetheless it may make you wonder why they would cover it that frequently if studies are saying that there is little evidence for doing so. There is also the fact that dental insurance in the united states are not non-profit organizations so why would they willingly cover so many visits?
The answer has to do with insurance companies weighing a cost benefit analysis for check ups and overall dental health. If you go in more frequently to your dentist, you are more likely to catch problems when they are small. Smaller problems lead to less complex and less expensive treatment.
Bigger problems are typically more complicated and cost more. Insurances most likely want to avoid having to deal with complicated problems and the additional costs that come with it. Thus, they will reward you for good behavior by covering your preventative visits!
A year is a long time and things can happen in the mouth
From a sensible standpoint getting your check up and cleaning every 6 months is not a far fetched idea. Think about all of the things that can potentially happen over the course of a year.
For instance, you can conceive and give birth to an entire miniature human being in just 9 months. If you can do that, what can happen to your teeth and gums? Isn't an entire year a long time that can potentially have a lot of things that can go wrong?
It really isn't a terrible idea to get checked out by a healthcare provider more frequently rather than less frequently. The biggest benefit is that you can catch cavities while they're small. If you're able to treat them at that stage, you can prevent complicated and expensive treatments.
A small cavity will only require a small cavity filling. However if you leave it untreated, it will grow. Once it does, treatment will become more complicated and more expensive, which means you'll have to spend a lot more time and money at the dentist.
It is in your best interest to take care of problems when they're small. Getting more frequent check ups can help you prevent major problems and save you money along the way.
That clean teeth feeling is irresistible
For those who come to get their dental cleanings every 6 months like clockwork, they absolutely adore that clean teeth feeling. When their teeth are free of tartar and plaque, it just feels great. Sometimes it even gets to the point where even a little bit of build up will bother the patient. It is quite common to find people who come in more frequently than the 6 month interval for their teeth cleanings just because they love how it feels.
Why would people be so eager to come to the dentist you ask? Well, usually the ones who are extremely compliant and come frequently, they don't really have dental problems. This means they don't end up needing fillings, root canals, and extractions. Or at least very rarely do they need it.
Patients who stay on top of their oral hygiene are less likely to develop problems. Their eagerness to come to the dentist just goes to show that.
The Verdict - Do you really need them?
Dental check ups are definitely necessary because you have no way of fixing oral health problems if they arise. Only a trained dental professional can do that for you. You have no way of knowing if you have a problem or not if you don't go in for your check up.
With that being said, we will have to agree with the ADA in that a dental check up 6 months may not be for everyone. Some people may need it more frequently while others may not. It all depends on the individual's needs so care should be personalized and tailored for them.
However, if your insurance does cover it twice a year we see no reason not to see the dentist twice a year. From a monetary standpoint, you should maximize the value of what you're paying for. Those insurance premiums aren't free after all so you should take advantage of it!
If you liked what you read here, we do want you to know that if you lived in the NYC area, our office offers full comprehensive dental check ups in long island city. We would definitely appreciate the local support!