Oral Conditions Your Dentist Looks for During a Dental Exam

Dental Exam San Francisco, CA

Most patients understand the purpose of a dental exam, which is to check on the health of teeth and the gums. However, you may be surprised to learn just how thorough of an inspection process a dental exam actually is. This review discusses the various oral conditions that your dentist can check for during a dental exam.

What does a dentist check for during a dental exam?

Your dentist will check for gum disease (both gingivitis and periodontitis), TMJ disorder, bruxism, sleep apnea, and oral cancer during a dental exam, among other possible concerns such as dental cavities, impacted teeth, and oral infections. Your dentist may use both the oral examination as well as dental x-rays to check for these oral health concerns.


Gingivitis is a milder form of periodontal disease. The symptoms are typically less severe with gingivitis. The various signs that a dentist may check for include gum irritation, gum swelling, and mild discoloration. Patients with gingivitis may also experience gum bleeding while brushing or flossing, as well.


Periodontitis is a more severe form of periodontal disease. Gingivitis can progress into periodontitis if it is not promptly diagnosed during a dental exam and treated accordingly. The symptoms of periodontitis include gum recession and deep gum pockets, along with many of the symptoms associated with gingivitis. Scaling and root planing may be recommended to treat periodontitis.

TMJ disorder

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is responsible for opening and closing the jaw. TMJ disorder occurs when there is pain and limited movement of the TMJ. A dentist can check for signs of TMJ disorder during a dental exam, and many offer treatment options to alleviate the symptoms of TMJ disorder.


Bruxism (also known as teeth grinding) is a common cause of TMJ disorder, and it can also impact the appearance and health of teeth. Dentists check for signs of bruxism during a dental exam, which is especially important since many who struggle with bruxism are not aware that they do so until the symptoms (e.g., worn-down teeth) become severe.

Oral cancer

Oral cancer screenings are the best way to determine if there are any concerning signs, and those at higher risk should schedule annual cancer screenings separate from their regular dental exam. However, a dentist can still check for more obvious signs of oral cancer during the visit.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea can affect someone without them realizing it. A dentist cannot diagnose sleep apnea from a dental exam, but they can look for signs that it may be a concern, especially when combining the dental exam with a discussion of any sleep concerns the patient is having.

Common questions about dental exams

The following are common questions about dental exams and the detection (and prevention) of oral diseases.

What else does a dentist look for during a dental exam?

Of course, the primary purpose of a dental exam is to assess the health of the patient’s teeth and gums, in addition to checking for signs of various diseases and conditions as described above. Specifically, dentists also check for signs of tooth decay, chipped teeth, cracked teeth, severe teeth stains caused by plaque and tartar, and warning signs of periodontal disease. As mentioned, dentists also evaluate the health of the patient’s jaw, as well.

What tests are used during a dental exam?

An oral examination simply involves the use of non-invasive dental instruments that the dentists use by hand. They may also utilize dental x-rays. There are a variety of dental x-ray types, each of which offers a unique view of the mouth. From there, the diagnostic tests that are performed can vary. For example, a dentist may recommend a more in-depth oral cancer screening or a biopsy if potential signs of oral cancer are detected.

Are there ways to prevent oral diseases?

There are things that every person can do to reduce their risk of oral diseases such as periodontal disease, bruxism, and oral cancer, although not all cases of oral disease are preventable. Talk to your dentist about prevention techniques to implement between dental exam visits.

Schedule a dental exam with us

Here at our dental practice, we believe in being thorough during the dental examination process, and we conduct an extensive check on the status of your oral health. To schedule a visit for a dental exam and to put together a long-term prevention and treatment plan to help you maintain optimal oral health, contact us today.

Request an appointment here: https://www.dentist4beautifulsmiles.com or call Swati Agarwal, DDS at (415) 952-1149 for an appointment in our San Francisco office.

Check out what others are saying about our dental services on Yelp: Dental Cleaning and Examinations in San Francisco, CA.

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