It just happens: you wake up one morning and realize you haven’t been to the dentist in 2, 5, 10 years. Don’t be ashamed: this is more common than you might think, and no matter how much time has elapsed since your last seat in the chair, dentists understand that it’s not always easy to come regularly, since finances, family obligations, and life, in general, can keep you from coming every 6 months. The most important thing is that you come back when you can, and not to let fear or shame prevent you from restarting the dental care you need. Now is better than never, and we promise it’ll be a lot less nerve-wracking thank you think. If you’re ready for your first appointment in ages, we’ve got all the things you should expect to help take some of the guesswork and nervousness out of your next visit.
1. Ask around and give yourself some time
It’s often the case that you can’t simply go back to the dentist you used to see, as you may have moved, changed insurance, or maybe the office itself has moved. If you need a new dentist, ask your friends and co-workers who they see. This is a surefire way to find someone you feel comfortable with right off the bat since you know someone who has had positive experiences at that particular dental office.
If possible, try to have any old dental records forwarded to your new office. Even if they’re from 10 years ago, it’s still better for your new dentist to have some idea of your dental history rather than starting completely from scratch.
When the day of your appointment arrives, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get there. Getting stuck in traffic will make you more nervous and anxious for your appointment, so spare yourself the pain! Also, you’ll want to make sure you have ample time to fill out the paperwork you’ll need to do, which will be much easier if you’re not trying to beat the clock. Finally, don’t forget your insurance card — you’re definitely going to need it!
Even if you’re returning to a dentist you used to see regularly, you’re still going to have x-rays taken if you haven’t been to the dentist in over a year. These are crucial, as the dentist can’t make a full assessment of your oral health without knowing what’s going on under the gumline.
X-rays are actually what make many patients nervous. Although they’re quick and painless, some patients have issues gagging on the bitewing plates when doing the back teeth. This is totally normal — and also something you can work through. Check out our guide to overcoming the dreaded x-ray gag right here, which should help put your mind and your mouth at ease.
3. Clean up!
After the x-rays are over, the dental hygienist will clean your teeth using an assortment of water tools and hand tools. Even if you’ve been brushing and flossing religiously in the time since your last appointment, you’ll still likely to have a lot of plaque. This isn’t necessarily because you’ve done anything wrong: it’s just a fact that even the most ardent brusher will leave food behind, and over time it will turn into plaque and tartar deposits.
Cleaning off the tartar and plaque will likely take up the bulk of the appointment since the hygienist has to go from tooth to tooth to clean up everything. Some patients don’t mind this process at all, while others find it mildly uncomfortable, which is usually true for people who haven’t been brushing and flossing regularly. Your gums will be more prone to inflammation and may bleed or feel sore, which is normal. The cleaning process is what will help your teeth and gums feel less sore next time — as long as you also do your part and get into a regular brushing and flossing routine between visits.
4. Cavity check
Next, the hygienist or the dentist will look for cavities and check your mouth for signs of oral cancer and gum recession. Cavities will be found with a small metal hook, while gum and cancer examinations are done visually — you can find out more about that here. None of these procedures are painful, so no need to sweat this part!
5. Time to talk
After the examination is over, your dentist will tell you if there are any issues. If you haven’t been to the dentist in a while, it’s highly likely you’ll have at least one or two cavities that need to be filled. Don’t worry, though — these are now fairly quick procedures and, thanks to advancements in tools, tend to be a lot less painful than fillings you may have gotten in the past. If you have cavities to be filled, your dentist will schedule a separate appointment for this work to be done.
Another common problem that comes up when you go for a long time between visits is gum disease. As plaque and tartar build up, they can go below the gumline and cause the gum to start pulling away from the teeth, causing pockets that are susceptible to bacteria. In order to fix this issue, your dentist may schedule you for what they call deep cleanings, which, as the name suggests, is a more in-depth and extensive version of the cleaning you just received. You can read more about deep cleanings here. Keep in mind that you’ll likely be asked to come in for cleanings every 4 months rather than twice a year after a deep cleaning to make sure the gums are healing. Although this might seem like a lot of time in the dentist chair, it will actually pay off in the long run by preventing bigger, more time-consuming and expensive problems from developing.
At this time, you’ll also want to tell you dentist about any problems you’ve noticed, such as any aches or pains in your teeth or jaw, or even any problems sleeping. The causes of these can be something like grinding or clenching, or it can be a more serious problem like sleep apnea. Your oral health can actually indicate a whole range of other issues, including heart disease, so make sure to be honest with your dentist and let him or her know of anything unusual you’ve noticed.
Going back to the dentist after a long time can be intimidating, but it’s much easier if you’re prepared and know all the steps involved in the appointment. Although we understand that it can sometimes be difficult to come in regularly, please do try to come for any follow-up appointments your dentist has scheduled and try hard to make it to the chair at least twice a year. Regular dental appointments help catch small problems before they turn into big, expensive and complicated problems, so it really is worth your while to come in regularly. If finances are a problem, many offices have payment plans or can otherwise work with you to make your treatments more affordable. Or goal is to keep your smile health and bright, so we’ll do what we can to ensure you want to see us as much as we want to see you. Do you have any additional questions or concerns about seeing the dentist again after a long time away? Let us know in the comments!