How often should you see a dentist? The answer isn't as straightforward as you might think and can depend on your individual circumstances and risk factors.[1]

Some dentists recommend that you visit for a check-up and clean every six months, while other clinics may schedule annual appointments. If you have an ongoing oral health problem, your dentist might suggest more frequent visits.

In fact, there are currently no Australian or World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines concerning the frequency of dental visits.[1] In Australia, the national evidence-based recommendation for dental check-up frequency is:

"Everyone has different oral health needs and risk levels which should be reflected in the frequency of check-ups. Talk with your oral health professional about your risk level and how frequently you need to visit for an oral health check."[2]

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What does the evidence say?

There have been many studies into the ideal frequency of dental visits. But, according to systematic reviews, the quality of research is not sufficient to draw any meaningful conclusions.[3]

Many dentists recommend a recall period of six months. That's because many dental professionals find this to be the safest amount of time to detect possible oral health problems at an earlier stage, when treatments or preventive care may be more effective. While these types of recommendations are typically based in dentists’ professional experience, there is no high quality research to support or refute this claim as a blanket recommendation for everyone.[3]

This has led to the recommendation that recall periods should be based on individual patient needs, with a suggested minimum period of three months for more complex needs and two years as the longest interval.[3]

Why are regular check-ups important?

Regardless of the exact frequency, regular visits are still important. Dental check-ups give your dentist the chance to check your mouth for any possible signs of oral health problems such as tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancer.

If your dentist finds a problem, they’ll discuss treatment options with you, including cost estimates. You can lower your risk of a dental problem by maintaining good oral hygiene and seeing your dentist on a regular basis.[4]

Scaling and cleaning treatments ("dental cleans") often follow a check-up. These treatments remove hardened plaque (calculus) from your teeth and help prevent gum disease. Based their assessment of your teeth and gums, dentists and hygienists may offer advice for improving your oral hygiene at home.[4]

There's no guideline for the ideal dentist cleaning frequency, but they're usually part of a routine check-up and hygiene appointment.[4] Again, your dentist or hygienist should be able to recommend a frequency that’s right for you.

When should children visit the dentist?

The frequency of dental visits for children tends to be the same as for adults – often it’s more convenient for families to visit the dentist together. But, as usual, this depends on everyone's individual oral health needs.

Australia's National Oral Health Plan and the FDI World Dental Federation recommend that children have their first dental visit before the age of two.[1]

Regular dental visits in childhood may help children to feel more comfortable around dentists.[5]

How often do Australians visit their dentists?

There may not be a blanket answer for how often everyone should see a dentist, but we do have an idea of how many Australians are visiting dentists, based on information collected in a National Dental Telephone Interview Survey that canvassed people of all ages in 2010.[1]

This revealed that just over half of adults (55.5%) had visited a dentist in the preceding 12 months, increasing to 73.9% for children aged 5-11 and 78.4% for young people aged 12-17. Children and older adults tended to visit the dentist more often, as did people in higher income families.[1]

How often should a dentist x-ray my teeth?

During your oral health assessment, or as preparation for a treatment, your dentist may recommend taking an x-ray of your mouth. This helps them to see the areas between your teeth and below your gums, which can be useful for diagnosing problems not visible to the naked eye, such as bone loss.[6]

Although the radiation dose of a dental x-ray is very low, your dentist will only take x-rays if they feel it's strictly necessary. Depending on your situation, an x-ray may not be needed if you had one in the past few months. They're also usually avoided if you're pregnant (especially in the first three months) and for young children.[6] Learn more about receiving dental treatment while pregnant.

When should I visit the dentist?

The bottom line is that your dentist will determine the most suitable time interval between your check-ups based on your individual needs. Since your individual needs can change over time, your dentist's recommendation may change over time too.

If you haven't visited a dentist for longer than 12 months, you should consider making an appointment for a complete oral health assessment and teeth cleaning.[1]

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References

[1] Australian Health Policy Collaboration and the Australian Dental Association. Australia's Oral Health Tracker - Technical Paper [Online] 2018 [Accessed June 2018] Available from: www.ada.org.au

[2] The National Oral Health Promotion Clearinghouse. Review of Evidence [Online] 2016 [Accessed June 2018] Available from: www.adelaide.edu.au

[3] Mark G Gussy, Stacey A Bracksley and Dr Anne-marie Boxall. How often should you have dental visits? [Online] 2013 [Accessed June 2018] Available from: ahha.asn.au

[4] Better Health Channel. Dental treatment [Online] 2018 [Accessed June 2018] Available from: www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au

[5] Australian Dental Association. Kids [Online] 2016 [Accessed June 2018] Available from: www.ada.org.au

[6] Oral Health Foundation. X-rays [Online] 2018 [Accessed June 2018] Available from: www.dentalhealth.org