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Put your hand up if you visit the dentist every six months. If you’re still sitting on your hands, you’re not alone. According to research by the Australian Dental Association, 65% of Australians haven’t seen a dentist in the last two years, let alone the last six months!
It can be daunting to make an appointment with a dentist for the first time. Will they laugh at the state of your teeth? Will it be expensive? Will it be painful?
To help guide you through your first visit and get you back on track to regular dental check-ups, we spoke with Dentist and Clinical Director of Education at Pacific Smiles Group, Dr Rakesh Jivan.
“First things first. Rest assured, for your first visit to the dentist, there will be zero pain and discomfort,” says Rakesh.
“Research shows that the biggest fear people have about going to the dentist is not pain, but rather a fear of embarrassment or judgement,” he says. “Dentists today practise patient-centred care, meaning they provide dental care with understanding and support rather than judgement.”
Brush and floss your teeth! If you’re getting your teeth cleaned at the dentist, any leftover food will be cleaned; however brushing first makes it easier for your dentist to see what’s going on inside your mouth.
Rakesh also suggests taking a moment to review your dental history before your appointment – this includes when you were last seen, what you had done and any issues you’ve had since.
“A patient who’s had a quick think about their dental history before they come is so helpful,” he says.
Be sure to get to your first appointment 10-15 minutes early as there’ll be paperwork to fill in.
“Expect to have a conversation about your wants and needs, and what you’d like the outcome to be,” says Rakesh. “You’ll also be asked some general questions about your health.”
“There are generally three types of consults,” says Rakesh. “A new patient (which could also be a patient who hasn’t been in for more than two years or a patient who’s seeing a new dentist for the first time), an emergency consult for someone who’s in pain, and finally a recall patient – someone who has been in the last six months to the same dentist.”
“At each visit your dentist may check the head and neck muscles and assess the lymph nodes in the neck. We’ll also be looking for any cracks and creaks around the jaw joints, and asymmetry, where one side appears swollen. We then check the outside of the mouth, lips, cheeks and soft tissues.”
“Once we look inside the mouth, we always carry out an oral cancer screening. Oral cancer can be subtle; it could just be a bit of redness or a tiny ulcer. We’ll also check for gum disease. We then check the teeth for any changes or signs of decay.”
For the vast majority of patients, a professional clean and polish is a pain-free procedure
If your teeth and gums are in good health on your first visit, your dentist can clean your teeth that day. “We always aim to do a clean if there’s a stain or tartar, however on occasions that gum disease is present or there are more pressing things to look at, we’ll bring you back for a clean on the next visit,” says Rakesh.
The dentist will work on each tooth individually to remove plaque and tartar. With modern techniques and equipment, a professional clean and polish is a pain-free procedure for the vast majority of patients.
“If you’re a brand new patient, or it’s been a long time between visits, it’s best to leave no stone unturned, so expect to have photos or x-rays taken,” says Rakesh.
X-rays are used to detect things like tooth decay, infection, gum disease, impacted teeth, tumours and bone loss.
“Patients should expect to have their images explained to them in plain English. They should also be given an opportunity to ask questions and get follow-up care, a treatment plan and a quote in writing,” says Rakesh.
Make sure you ask as many questions as you need to fully understand what the suggested treatment is for, and why it needs to be done.
Where dental work is concerned, prevention is definitely better than cure
If nothing needs to be done immediately, the dentist will rebook your next appointment for six months’ time. “If you’re perfectly healthy and in your early 20s, you could stretch this out to yearly, but for everyone else, we recommend six-monthly check-ups,” says Rakesh.
The reason we need regular check-ups is to catch signs of tooth decay and gum disease early. Where dental work is concerned, prevention is definitely better than cure.
Follow your dentist’s care plan. If your teeth feel sensitive after a filling, you may prefer to eat soft foods and nothing too hot or cold. If your teeth have been cleaned during the visit, you can eat straight away, however wait 30 minutes if you’ve had a fluoride treatment so it can be absorbed into the teeth.
Going to the dentist is hardly anyone’s favourite activity, but it’s an essential part of keeping you and your family healthy. At nib, we offer a range of Extras covers that include benefits for dental care. If you’re already an nib member, you can check your current policy using Online Services. Alternatively, you can get a quote online in just minutes.
When you’re ready to book your dental appointment, our nib First Choice Network should be your first port of call to potentially reduce your out-of-pocket expenses. It’s our community of specially-selected health providers who have agreed to provide nib members with quality healthcare and great customer service at competitive treatment fees.
Dr Rakesh Jivan is a general dental practitioner with close to two decades of clinical experience in private practice. He is the clinical director for education at Pacific Smiles Group responsible for practitioner support and continuing professional development for all practitioners working from Pacific Smiles Dental & nib Dental Care Centres in NSW, VIC, QLD & the ACT.