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What Happens During a Dental Checkup: Demystifying Expectations

A dental checkup usually includes the oral exam, x-rays, and a teeth cleaning but restorative or emergency treatment may also be included if there is time for it.

dentist examination

What to expect during dental checkup:

Check up x-rays

The first part of a dental check up begins with taking x-rays by the dental assistant. There are 3 types of x-rays that may be taken during the appointment.

Why x-rays are taken first: Without radiographs, your dentist cannot perform a comprehensive oral evaluation, therefore these need to be taken first. Also, it doesn't make sense for the dentist to come back to the operatory a second time if the x-rays are taken after .

Dental x-ray benefits: Radiographs permit your dentist to see beyond what they can visually detect with their naked eye. A lot of oral diseases are hidden from plain sight.

What x-rays can detect:

  • Periapical pathology. These are infections or abscesses that form at the tip of the tooth root.

  • Cavities in between teeth. Your dentist can detect chewing surface decay since it's easy to see but they can't

  • Periodontal disease. Advanced gum disease (periodontitis) will exhibit bone loss which can be detected with x-rays.

After the x-rays are taken, it is time for your dentist to review them and perform the clinical oral exam.

Oral examination

The second part of a dental check up is the oral examination with your dentist.

Broken dental filling
Broken dental filling

What to expect during oral exam:

  1. Review x-rays. Examining the taken radiographs is a part of the exam to check for cavities, bone loss, and also any signs of infection.

  2. Visual oral exam. Even with x-rays your dentist still needs to visually look inside your mouth. Some pathologies are best seen visually with the naked eye.

The purpose of the exam is to develop a personalized treatment plan for you.

  • Those in good oral health may only need a dental checkup twice a year.

  • Those with tooth decay and periodontal disease will need to require for additional treatments until all disease have been eradicated.

Dental cleaning

The third part of a dental check up is the teeth cleaning with the dental hygienists but the dentist can also do it.

Before and after dental cleaning
Before and after dental cleaning

What to expect during teeth cleaning:

  1. Ultrasonic scaler debridement. A stainless steel scaler that vibrates at ultrasonic speeds to help remove the hard calculus buildup on teeth.

  2. Hand scaling. To fine tune any tartar/plaque the ultrasonic scaler may have missed.

  3. Flossing as needed. Often times there are strands of food that needs to be removed with flossing.

  4. Teeth polishing. A concentrated fluoride polishing paste is applied to the teeth to help strengthen them and make them glossy.

Last but not least, your hygienist will give you oral hygiene instructions based on what you can improve upon for your next check up visit.

Additional dental procedures

If there is time after the x-rays, exam, and cleaning, your dentist may perform additional needed dental procedures for you. The benefit of this would be to save you a separate visit/appointment.

Potential extra procedures:

  • Fluoride treatment. Applying a professional concentrated version of fluoride onto teeth to help prevent cavities.

  • Cavity filling.

  • Emergency root canal. Removing the nerve from the tooth to kill the pain permanently.

  • Emergency extraction.

Most dental office will usually only schedule you enough time for the check up because they're unable to anticipate what treatment you need. Due to economical and practical reasons, most dentist visits are scheduled to be 45-60 minutes on average.


The dental checkup which includes the x-rays, exam, and cleaning can be completed over a single 45-60 minute appointment. At least that is how long it takes at our office by our dentists in Long Island City. There may be situations where we add on an additional treatment if time warrants it.



David Chen 200 x 200.jpg

About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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