Dr. Cliff Swanlund, president-elect of the Alberta Dental Association, says there is no “right” number of dental visits per year. Surprisingly, how often you need to go may have little to do with your teeth, but rather the gum tissue and supporting bone. “For people without decay problems, once a year is fine,” says Swanlund, who has a dental practice in Calgary. “Others who are prone to periodontal problems may require checking or cleaning every three to four months.”
These more frequent cleanings remove built-up plaque, the daily debris that we keep under control with proper brushing. Plaque can encourage the growth of harmful bacteria that cause periodontal or gum disease, an infection of the tissue that holds your teeth in place. With time, teeth may loosen and be in danger of falling out. Smoking, systemic diseases including diabetes, pregnancy, and the use of oral contraceptives can all increase the risk of gum disease. If your gums bleed when you clean your teeth, or are tender, swollen or red, see a dentist immediately.
Timing of dentist visits can also be driven by your benefits package, if you have one. “There are people I want to see every six months, but their coverage is every nine months so they ask to stretch the check-ups out a bit,” says Swanlund. “But it isn’t wise to let insurance dictate treatment.”
With growing evidence linking oral health with general health, only you and your dentist can determine how many visits are best. As a general rule, go a minimum of once per year, but more frequently if you have specific problems. However, if you feel you are going too often, get a second opinion. Swanlund’s best tip for reducing trips to the dental chair? Keep on flossing.