You go to the dentist and have your teeth cleaned. After a perfect checkup the dentist tells you that you should come back in 6 months. According to Wikipedia, there is no basis for this, taking a cynical view that the dentist is trying to make more money.

Some patients actually need dental cleanings more often because of their chemistry and/or their irregular home care habits. Patients do not typically like to floss and the molar areas in particular run in to problems. If this continues unchecked the patient will lose bone which support the teeth, making them loose. Since plaque is concentrated bacteria, it gives off toxins (poisons) which cause the supporting bone to disappear, plus an inflammation of the gums which are red and swollen. Over time the plaque will build on itself and sometimes calcify. The calcified plaque is known as calculus or tartar. If the bone loss gets significant enough, gum surgery can be performed, usually at a periodontist. The fact that an entire dental specialty is dedicated to treating the effects of gum disease gone wild, well, there really IS something to routine preventive care.

How often do insurance companies pay for insurance?

One guideline is that dental insurance usually pays for cleanings every 6 months. That seems to be a frequency that dentists and patients agree upon. It also gives the dentist enough time to catch a problem before it moves into a possible surgery.

So, there do exist patients who have a favorable situation with their chemistry. It usually isn’t because they brush and floss regularly but rather their chemistry is very favorable to not form plaque and have it stick to their teeth. I had a patient in last week who had not been in to see me for 3 years and had hardly any plaque. Her checkup, with x-rays, was perfect. For me, it’s difficult to recommend coming in every 6 months, so I suggested that she should get her x-rays every so often, without being specific, and she can have a checkup with x-rays as needed. A ball park estimate would be 2-3 years, and that’s just a guess. In my experience there are so very few patients who actually fit into this category, so I revert back to recommending 6 month dental recall appointments. There are far more patients whose gums become challenged after being just a couple of months late.

What if I don’t get a dental cleaning?

There was an issue of TIME magazine from about 10 years ago where the front cover was highlighting gum disease. In the article, recent studies (at that time) showed that there was a link between gum disease and heart disease, plus indication of detrimental effects on other organs. Do you really want to ignore have your teeth cleaned?