Updated: Oct 14
A dental check up should take about 45 minutes on average but it could be a little shorter or longer depending on your situation. There is no one size fits all because everyone's oral health is unique and thus different from anyone else's.
Nonetheless, all dental examinations include similar components that must be done. All of these things added together will amount to the 45 minutes that it would take for the procedure. Some of it is administrative while the rest are due to clinical needs.
Table of Contents:
What is included in a dental check up?
For semantic purposes, a dental check up is technically just the oral examination by your dentist. This is the part where your dentist reviews the x-rays that were taken and also visually examines your teeth. Aside from that, everything else that is done at the appointment is technically a separate procedure.
However, most patients do not book an appointment just to go in for the check up only to return on separate visits for the x-rays and the dental cleaning. That is not the norm nor is it very practical since it is inefficient use of the patient's time.
Due to that reason, the vast majority of the general populace prefer to have a combined appointment where multiple procedures are done all in one visit. Patients have come to expect all of these treatments to be done at the dental check up appointment.
Oral examination. Your dentist will visually check your teeth for cavities and gum disease. They'll also screen for various pathologies such as oral cancer.
Routine x-rays. These are taken to provide your dentist with more information about your teeth, often things that you can't visually see like cavities in between the teeth.
Dental cleaning. The part of the visit that everyone looks forward to because they want their teeth cleaned. The plaque and tartar that you've been building up for the past few months will finally get removed.
As a matter of fact, when patients schedule their appointment they usually state that their purpose is a "dental check up and cleaning". Rarely will they ever say just a check up. This only goes to show that people expect a combined treatment visit. (The x-rays are implied since most people know that it is a necessary part of the examination).
It all makes sense doesn't it?
Would you rather take time out of your busy day to make three separate dental appointments or would you rather have them all done in one visit? The preference is obviously for the latter since it may be difficult enough to find time to go see the dentist even for just one appointment!
Therefore for efficiency and effectiveness purposes, most patients prefer to get their check up, x-rays, and cleaning all in one visit. They basically expect to have it all done at the same time.
The only time where the dental cleaning is NOT involved in the check up is if the patient is going in for a consultation such as a second opinion for a proposed treatment. Usually the patient has already had a cleaning and they're just coming in to see if there are alternative treatments that may be possible aside from the one which was proposed by their dentist.
What can make the check up take longer?
There are two factors which can potentially make the check up appointment take longer than the usual 45 minutes. One would be due to administrative reasons which are involved with the check in process. The other one would be from the dental cleaning where a regular one is insufficient.
Don't forget that you can't just waltz into a dental office and start being treated because there is a lot of administrative paperwork to do. You must first check in and get registered if you are a new patient at the practice.
This includes filling out health history forms and also providing your dental insurance information. Your insurance will need to be verified by the front desk and if they're having issues verifying you, that could be a major cause for delay.
Common insurance verification issues:
Providing the wrong insurance card such as giving your health insurance. Not all employers use the same health insurance company as the dental one. You may have a separate card for dental insurance but patients may not realize that!
The insurance subscriber is your spouse and the member ID happens to be their social security number. You don't remember their SSN off the top of your head and you're unable to reach your spouse because they're working.
Sometimes your insurance may not be active yet because you just got the card.
If you happen to be missing one of the above items, it will certainly add time to your appointment. There have been times where we're unable to verify the patient and they had to reschedule and come back another day once they have it all sorted out.
A routine dental cleaning would fit within the 45 minutes of allotted time for the check up. However if you need more than that such as a deep cleaning, it would definitely take more time than that.
Deep cleanings can take anywhere from 1.5-2 hours total in order for it to be completed. This is typically divided up into two separate appointments as well because it does require local anesthesia to numb your teeth and gums.
If you were a new patient, it would be impossible for your dentist to know if you needed one or not ahead of time. Therefore it may add additional time to your visit but that would be out of your control.
Reasons for needing a deep cleaning:
Severe tartar build up.
A lot of calculus (tartar) that are underneath the gum line
Severe gum bleeding
Been multiple years since last dental check up
Basically if you're in extremely poor gum health such as having excessive tartar build up, you will require more than a regular cleaning since it will be insufficient. Usually if you need a deep teeth cleaning, you've progressed beyond the stage of gingivitis and have arrived at the more advanced stage of gum disease called periodontitis.
Alternatively, sometimes the hygienist may just clean above the gum lines and then have you return for two additional appointments for the deep cleaning. Those subsequent visits will be when they will clean below the gum line.
What would make the dental exam take less time?
The only reason why your dental check up may take less time is if you happen to be a returning patient. What we mean is that you're already an established patient at the office so your dentist already has all of your information such as your insurance.
As long as none of your information has changed, you can practically speed through the check in process and skip most of the administrative paperwork. This will significantly decrease your appointment time.
What we've found is that for our regular patients who come like clockwork every 6 months, the more time that they've returned the quicker we can get them in and out. Basically if they've been here multiple times already, we can typically return them back to their day in about 30 minutes or so.
That is one perk for sticking with the same dental provider. They already know you and they know the status of your oral health and mouth. There are no surprises and you can save a lot of time by doing so!
A dental check up should take about 45 minutes total on average. That visit does however include the routine check up x-rays as well as the dental cleaning. They're technically not part of the examination but patients have come to expect all three procedures to be combined for their routine visit.
We can't disagree because it is significantly more efficient and more effective use of the patient and the doctor's time to have all of it combined into one visit. It is certainly not practical to have three separate appointments to do all of them.
If you're in the NYC area, our long island city dental office offers dental check ups. We're more than happy to take care of you and your oral health if you happen to be close by.