How often should you visit the dentist?

Are twice-yearly dental visits too much?

Most dentists recommend a visit every six months for dental cleanings. But new research questions the twice-yearly appointment scheduling.

A recent University of Michigan study found that an annual cleaning may suffice for those without risk for periodontal disease. Patients with higher risk, which represent more than half of the population, should visit the dentist twice yearly at a minimum, according to the research.

As part of the study, researchers looked at the correlation between the frequency of dental visits, long-term tooth loss and the three periodontitis risk factors: smoking, diabetes and genetics. They reviewed data from 5,117 dental exams from adults who visited the dentist on a regular basis for 16 years. The participants had no history of periodontitis and consistently received one or two cleanings each year.

The results showed that high-risk patients (having at least one of the three risk factors) received significant benefit in preventing tooth loss from two dental cleanings per year. In high-risk patients with two or three risk factors, research showed that more than two cleanings per year may be needed to prevent tooth loss. In low-risk patients, those who had no risk factors, the results found that the second cleaning did not have significant value in reducing tooth loss beyond that achieved with one cleaning each year.

Contrary to these findings, Dr. Leo Morton, a pediatric dentist in Hoffman Estates, Ill., and dental division director of Advocate Lutheran General Hospital says he believes regular dental visits are important.

“I believe all adult patients should visit their dentist twice per year. While most people do not get their teeth professionally cleaned and examined two times per year, they should, in order to maximize prevention. This does not mean getting x-rays and fluoride at every visit, but it is important to get a professional cleaning to remove hidden plaque deposits,” says Dr. Morton.

However, Dr. Morton does say that those with higher risk factors should visit their dentist more than twice per year, depending on their prognosis. “Every patient is different, and it is important that dentists communicate the importance of dental check-ups to all patients, high-risk or not.”

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