Do You Really Need a Dental Checkup Every Six Months?

female patient undergoing dental exam

If you’re like most people, you visit your dentist every six months to have your teeth cleaned and examined. This is because we’ve been told for decades that visiting the dentist twice a year is crucial to maintaining our oral health.

 

But where did the six-month idea come from and what kind of research is out there to support it? Keep reading to learn about the history of this widespread concept in dentistry.

What is a Dental Checkup?

Before delving into the research, it’s valuable to understand what a dental checkup consists of and why it’s important in the first place. Some of the services typically included in a dental checkup are:

  • Cleaning and polishing your teeth
  • X-rays
  • Oral cancer screening
  • Fluoride application
  • Visual examination of teeth and gums

No matter how well you brush your teeth, it’s too difficult to completely rid your mouth of bacteria on your own. It can accumulate in hard-to-reach areas, leaving sticky deposits on your teeth called plaque. If plaque isn’t removed quickly, it hardens into tartar and leads to the development of dental cavities.

 

By using specialized tools, your dentist can remove plaque and tartar from even the deepest pockets of your mouth, protecting your teeth from cavities. They can also use x-rays to detect issues that might not be visible otherwise and prescribe the appropriate treatment.

 

Many dentists, such as Dr. Roman Shlafer in Farmington Hills, also provide oral cancer screenings for the sake of your safety. By checking regularly for any signs of the disease, they can stay ahead of its development and prevent it from advancing to a severe stage.

The Origins of the Six-Month Concept

Dentists like Dr. Ted Hermann in Miami have been recommending that patients visit them every six months for a long time — so long that many of them don’t remember where the idea originally came from. While you may expect the six months idea to be the result of medical research, the truth is that there’s very little science behind the idea at all.

 

In fact, the first known mention of this idea was in a marketing campaign for Pepsodent toothpaste in the post-WWII era. Pepsodent was the leading toothpaste brand of its time, estimated to be in 65% of households.

 

An advertising executive named Claude Hopkins played a large role in increasing the toothpaste’s popularity by associating brushing your teeth with a healthy and attractive appearance. He eventually created the tagline “Use Peposdent every day — see your dentist twice a year.”

 

Before the launch of this marketing campaign, there are no known references to visiting your dentist for checkups every six months.

Pepsodent toothpaste

Why Has the Six-Month Concept Endured?

Now that we know where the idea of biannual dental checkups came from, an even better question is why is this idea still upheld today?

 

There are a couple of reasons for this, one of which is tied to dental insurance coverage. Insurance companies got involved in dentistry in the 1970s, at which point the importance of visiting the dentist had become embedded in American society.

 

The insurance companies learned that their costs would be lower down the line if they covered preventive care, so most of them began covering two cleanings per year. This further reinforced the idea to patients that they should visit their dentist twice a year for checkups.

 

It’s never been fully clear why insurance providers instituted this concept. The best explanation is that they bought into the Pepsodent campaign, as most of society did at the time. At some point, the idea of biannual checkups became common knowledge and most people don’t question the reasoning behind it.

What Dentists Think

Unfortunately, there isn’t any conclusive medical research that supports the idea you should visit your dentist every six months. However, there also isn’t any conclusive research against the idea.

 

The truth is that everyone’s teeth are different and it’s unlikely there’s a universal time window that can apply to all patients when it comes to dental checkups. Patients who have good genetics and practice excellent oral hygiene may only need their teeth cleaned once a year.

 

On the other hand, patients who neglect to brush their teeth or suffer from frequent periodontal issues may need more than two checkups per year to maintain their health. Most dentists have stuck with the six-month concept because it’s historically embedded in people’s minds and matches up to their insurance coverage.

 

In addition, visiting the dentist at six-month intervals is an easy and affordable schedule that will keep the vast majority of patients in optimal health. Though research may not confirm it’s necessary, there’s no question that scheduling dental checkups every six months delivers positive results.

Visit Your Dentist Every Six Months to Protect Your Health

Though you may be tempted to skip a dental checkup, or schedule them less often, why not play it safe? When it comes to your health, there’s no reason to cut corners or take unnecessary risks. Besides, dental checkups have a larger purpose than preventing cavities.

 

By examining your smile every six months, your dentist can stay ahead of issues that would become far more difficult to treat as they progress. Dr. A. Vandiveer Strait, a dentist and Invisalign provider in Norwalk, CT, likes to schedule biannual checkups primarily for this reason.

 

“When patients come in every six months, I can detect problems or abnormalities in their early stages before they become severe,” says Dr. Strait. “This helps me provide more effective treatment.”

 

With or without conclusive research behind the idea, the bottom line is that biannual dental checkups have worked for several decades and there’s no reason to fix a system that isn’t broken.