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April 27, 2022  | by Dr. Benjamin Farrow

Your Dental Exam - Looking for Patterns

Part I - Looking for Patterns

What exactly is your dentist and team looking for during your dental examination? You may have thought it and we have certainly heard the following: “I hope that they don't find anything.”

There are certainly instances of catastrophic failure or other conditions that need immediate attention. It is quite common to encounter a single sensitive tooth, one deep gum pocket, or a broken crown or filling. In these cases, we are ready to create a plan to address it as soon as possible. But there is a more important goal than identifying isolated problems during your dental exam.

During a dental check-up or examination, we are on the look-out for patterns that help us assess risk of future problems.

We evaluate a wide range of signs as we evaluate your oral health – much like a detective will look at clues. We also ask lots of questions that illuminate what we see and help us understand your story. While much of our focus is on bacteria and their effects on the teeth and gums, we have also made it a focus of our practice to understand and educate our patients about the entire chewing system and the negative effects of stress on the teeth, muscles, bone, and joints.

Biologic Patterns

To see early signs of decay, we evaluate the teeth using visual exploration and supplemental x-ray information. When we see a subtle pattern of x-ray shadowing on areas of the teeth or white, chalky areas when exploring the teeth, we assess the higher risk for cavities. When checked regularly, we can determine the need and urgency to repair with fillings. This helps us develop preventative strategies including improving diet, hygiene coaching, and fluoride optimization.

Our routine gum health screening (i.e. probing for pocket depths and measuring gingival recession), with all its numeric measurements, is a perfect example of a tool we use to see patterns. With a pattern of higher numbers or a higher amount of bleeding, we can assess your higher risk for gum disease. This helps both tailor your dental visits as well as coach you in techniques that can improve your gum health.

Functional Patterns

To prevent our teeth from wearing out, we need to understand the forces at work in our chewing system. At their best, your dental team can identify issues prior to more extensive damage to your teeth or gums and bone that surround them. If we identify patterns that pose a risk to function or appearance of your teeth, we can help you understand some of the long-term consequences for you.

These signs of stress and instability can include:

  • Muscle-tension headaches

  • TMJ dysfunction

  • Wear or chipping of teeth

  • Loose or sore teeth

  • Gum recession or other periodontal problems


Depending on the severity of the patterns that we see, we will consider whether a protective or a corrective strategy is a better fit for what we are observing and what matters most to you about your teeth.

With a complete approach, a careful plan, and the modern advances in dental technology, we can restore even the most worn set of teeth. In our next blog post, I will review some different ways that we can approach this.