Though bi-annual dental checkups have become the accepted norm, this figure is not—it may surprise you to learn—based on a history of scientific evidence. In fact, the “twice a year” recommendation owes its existence to advertising; during the 1950’s, a toothpaste company called Pepsodent ran an ad which suggested visiting the dentist twice per year to attain optimal dental health. Because modern medicine was still in its relative infancy then, professionals largely complied with this suggestion as it seemed sufficient to prevent serious dental problems in most people.
However, today we know that dental care, like health care, must be highly individualised to be effective. While the “once every six months” figure is an acceptable guideline for many people, there are certain conditions and risk factors which make it necessary for a patient to return to his or her dentist once every three months instead. The five most common factors that merit a three-month recall include:
- Relying on medications which reduce salivary flow. Many people do not realise that it is in fact saliva which forms our body’s first line of defence against dental decay. Saliva is essential to both cleaning away food particles and depositing fresh minerals on the surface of our teeth, a process known as remineralisation. Unfortunately, many medications—including over the counter medications like antihistamines and sleep aids—lead to a condition known as “dry mouth” where saliva flow is dramatically reduced. Dry mouth leads to a far higher risk of tooth decay, so people who rely on medications that cause Dry Mouth should consider seeing their dentist four times per year.
- Diabetes. Research shows that those who have diabetes also have an increased prevalence of gum disease (periodontitis), and this gum disease can sometimes become very serious. If left unchecked, the infection may spread deeper than the gums and damage the bone around the patient’s teeth, resulting in tooth loss. If you have diabetes, you should therefore err on the side of caution and visit your dentist every three months.
- Shift work. Those who engage in shift work generally spend more time awake than those who work regular hours do and therefore consume food over a longer period of time each day, exposing teeth more frequently to plaque-causing food particles. They also tend to consume far more acidic (and often sugary) caffeinated beverages (e.g. soda and energy drinks) than the average person does, leading to a greatly enhanced risk of tooth decay.
- Lifestyle factors such as smoking and/or heavy alcohol consumption. Both smoking and alcohol consumption irritate the gums, leading to a greater risk of gum disease and resultant tooth damage. Additionally, those struggling with alcoholism frequently forget to engage in regular oral hygiene practices like brushing and flossing nightly, making frequent professional cleanings necessary.
- Frequent use of inhalers. Inhalation therapy can save lives when it comes to treating asthma in a timely and effective manner, but unfortunately, it’s hard on a patient’s oral health. According to Dr. Kenneth Burrell, senior director on the Council of Scientific Affairs for the American Dental Association, “The nature of inhaled drugs means a natural side effect is to dry the mouth out.” Likewise, “Lots of inhalants are very acidic, with low pHs way below what will dissolve enamel.” A combination of dry mouth and high acidity can quickly lead to rampant caries, so if you have asthma, talk to your dentist about how to manage these risks, along with having your teeth inspected at least once every three months.
 Diabetes and Oral Health Problems, http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/oral-health-and-hygiene/diabetes-and-oral-health.html
 Asthma medications linked to tooth damage, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2004-05-30/features/0405300364_1_inhalers-asthma-drugs-decay
My name is Jeremy Rourke. I’m part of a family of dentists with my father, brother, cousin and nephew also being dentists. I won a University of Sydney Dental Alumni prize for being the top student in my year and graduated with Honours in 1971. I have been a Registered dentist for over 40 years. In that time I have created a few “firsts” in my efforts to stay ahead.