What you can expect

By Mayo Clinic Staff

What happens during a dental exam for children might vary depending on the child's age and treatment needs.

Ages 6 months to 1 year

The dentist or hygienist might place your child on a table or have you hold your child on your lap to conduct the exam. Then the dentist or hygienist will likely:

  • Evaluate your child's oral hygiene and overall health, drinking and eating habits, and his or her risk of tooth decay
  • Remove any stains or deposits on your child's teeth by gently scrubbing with a wet toothbrush
  • Demonstrate proper cleaning techniques
  • Assess how much fluoride your child is getting through his or her diet and use of oral hygiene products — and, if necessary, prescribe a fluoride supplement or apply a topical fluoride treatment to your child's teeth
  • Look for sores or bumps on your child's tongue, inside the cheeks and on the roof of the mouth
  • Evaluate the impact of habits such as pacifier use and thumb sucking

Toddlers, school-age children and adolescents

During each regular checkup, the dentist or hygienist will continue to evaluate your child's oral hygiene and overall health, drinking and eating habits, and his or her risk of tooth decay. In addition to cleaning your child's teeth, the dentist or hygienist might:

  • Take dental X-rays or, if necessary, do other diagnostic procedures
  • Apply sealants — thin, protective plastic coatings — to permanent molars and other back teeth susceptible to decay
  • Repair any cavities or tooth defects
  • Look for any problems in the way your child's upper and lower teeth fit together
  • Counsel your child about the impact of thumb sucking, jaw clenching or nail biting
  • Recommend pre-orthodontic treatment, such as a special mouthpiece, or orthodontics, such as braces, to straighten your child's teeth or adjust your child's bite

As your child gets older, dental exams might also include counseling about the oral health risks associated with:

  • Drinking sugary beverages
  • Smoking
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Eating disorders
  • Oral piercings
  • Not wearing a mouth guard during contact sports

The dentist or hygienist might also discuss the possible removal of your child's wisdom teeth (third molars).

Dental X-ray

A dental X-ray allows the dentist to see detailed images of specific sections of your child's mouth. Traditional X-ray film is developed in a darkroom, but a newer technique allows X-ray images to be sent to a computer and viewed on a screen. Various types of oral X-rays are available, including:

  • Bitewing. This type of X-ray allows the dentist to see the crowns of the upper and lower teeth. During a bitewing X-ray, your child will bite down on the X-ray film holder while the X-ray images are being taken.
  • Periapical. This type of X-ray allows the dentist to see the entire tooth and the surrounding bone.
  • Occlusal. This type of X-ray allows the dentist to see the way the upper teeth and corresponding lower teeth fit together when the jaw is closed.
  • Panoramic. This type of X-ray gives the dentist a broad view of the entire mouth.

X-rays aren't typically needed at every dental visit. Radiation exposure from dental X-rays is low — but talk to the dentist if you're concerned about the radiation exposure.

Dental impression

In some cases, the dentist might recommend making a dental impression to produce a replica of your child's teeth and oral tissue. The dentist or hygienist will fill a horseshoe-shaped tray with a soft, gelatin-like material and place it over your child's upper and then lower teeth. After a few minutes, the tray is removed and used to create a dental cast or replica of your child's mouth.

Feb. 18, 2012