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  • Anderson Family Dental

What to Expect at a First Visit with a New Dentist: What Is a Comprehensive Exam?

During your regular, routine dental check-up, you will usually get your teeth cleaned, maybe get some updated x-rays or other diagnostics, and after a quick check, you’ll get the all-clear from your dentist (we hope). However, sometimes your dental team will need extra images and your dentist may take a closer look at every last detail about your oral health. What’s the difference between a routine periodic exam and a comprehensive dental examination?

Dr. Bryant Anderson and patient smiling


A comprehensive exam is a detailed, thorough assessment of your systemic and oral health to create a complete list of present and potential concerns. Typically, this type of exam will happen the first time you meet a dentist. However, it may also be appropriate to do a comprehensive examination if there has been a long gap in your care at that practice, or if there has been a major change in your health that might require building a new plan for your best care. 


Your routine periodic dental health check, which usually happens as part of your cleaning appointments, is a good way for your dentist to keep a close eye on your oral health and stay alert to changes. A comprehensive exam is how your dental team creates the baseline to which they will compare those future changes.

At a comprehensive exam, your dental team will take extra time going over your full-body health. They will need a full report of your ongoing medical concerns and your medication list. This will be updated at future appointments, but establishing your full medical history is an important step in building the best care for your oral health. The dentist will also take extra time at a comprehensive exam to sit and talk with you about any and all concerns you may have. This not only gives you a chance to get to know each other, but it puts you on the same page so that your care plan aligns with your needs.

Many of the tasks in a comprehensive exam are similar to what happens at a regular exam. For example, Dr. Anderson will check for cavities, cracks, and old restorations that may need repairs. However, as this will be the first time he meets your teeth, he will also build a chart to describe your teeth as they currently exist. The team will mark fillings you’ve already had, or any issues that were present before you came in. They may need to talk to you about the history of old injuries or infections to get a full picture of your oral health.


The best way to get a full picture of your oral health includes imaging such as x-rays. While you should get check-up x-rays regularly as part of your oral health routine, imaging at a comprehensive exam will be more thorough. The check-up x-rays, called bitewings, only look between the back teeth to check for cavities, tartar, and the level of your bone. However, a full mouth series of x-rays is usually taken at a comprehensive exam, and every few years after that. 

The full series shows the back and front teeth from top to bottom. This allows your dental team to check for hidden infections and root problems. These images also look at the health of the ligaments that hold your teeth in place and give information the check-up images usually don’t have.


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