Washington Dental is a general dentistry that serves LA and South Bay regions in California. We have practices in various locations like Lomita, Carson, Downtown L. A and the metropolitan area. Our dentists are USC and UCLA graduates, well trained to provide patients with the best quality services. Washington Dental offers free Digital X-rays and exams and all dental services, including general, family, implant, emergency, and cosmetic Dentistry. This article covers a broad look into dental exams and Check-Ups.

Importance of Dental Health

According to the ADA (American Dental Association) statistics, a hundred million Americans do not visit their dentists every year. The number of visits varies from person to person, depending on their oral health status. The ADA advises and recommends that people should give their dentists regular visits at least every six months.

Most oral diseases are painless until they are very advanced. Oral cancer is more common than other cancers, and due to late diagnosis, about 50,000 of all diagnosed patients in the U.S per year end up dying. You can avoid these late diagnoses by making your dentist visits more regular for physical exams of the head, oral cavity, and neck.

What is Dentistry?

Dentistry is a profession that deals with preventing and treating oral diseases. These diseases include conditions affecting teeth, the structures supporting them, and diseases affecting the soft mouth tissues. Dentistry also includes treating and correcting jaw malformation, teeth misalignment, and congenital oral cavity anomalies like cleft palates. 

Dentistry encompasses numerous specialties and subspecialties such as dental orthopedics, orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, oral and maxillofacial pathology, radiology and surgery, periodontics, 

Services Provided by a General Dentistry

General dentistry practice evaluates, diagnoses, and treats the oral cavity's conditions and maintains your teeth' appearance and functions. Most oral conditions and anomalies may be indications of underlying conditions. If a general dentist suspects this to be the case, you will be referred to your general physician or a specialist for more specialized evaluation.

 General dentistry services include:

  • X-rays, complete examinations, and dental cleaning
  • Root canals, fillings, and extractions
  • Cosmetic dentistry such as composite veneers, porcelain, and whitening
  • Placement and restoration of implants
  • Bridges, crowns, and complete or partial dentures
  • Orthodontics
  • Implants
  • Oral appliances that control sleep apnea
  • Periodontal therapy, preventive care, and nutritional guidance
  • Relaxation techniques via nitrous oxide

What a Dental Checkup Entails

During a visit to the dentist, you may be asked to do a dental checkup. A dental checkup is an essential procedure as it allows the dentist to evaluate your teeth. The checkup also enables the dentist to perform any necessary treatments. 

There are three types of checkups:

  1. Comprehensive Dental Checkup

A comprehensive dental procedure consists of several procedures. Nothing happens during a comprehensive dental exam without your prior knowledge and consent. You have to be educated on what is necessary and why. The dentists ensure you are comfortable and aware of what is happening at all times. 

The dental checkup process begins with the doctor perusing your medical and dental history. Next, the dentist inspects your teeth, checking for mineral deficiency or tooth decay. After that, the dentist examines your tongue, throat, head, and face, checking for any signs of swelling or diseases like oral cancer.

 After the visual exam, the dentist might order an x-ray to see what is underneath your gums. Depending on the x-ray results, the dentist might call more diagnostic tests, like CT scans, and you might get your teeth cleaned or get a fluoride treatment.

Teeth Cleaning

Teeth cleaning involves the scraping of tartar from the surface of your teeth. Tartar is plaque that has since been calcified, and brushing or flossing cannot remove. So instead, the dentist uses a scaler to scrape off tartar below and above your gumline.

After scraping off the tartar, the dentist uses an abrasive paste to polish your teeth and make them smooth. Plaque and tartar cause gum disease and tooth decay, so it is advisable to get your teeth periodically cleaned. Diabetes and heart diseases have been linked to advanced gum disease, so you should clean your teeth at least twice a year.

Fluoride Treatment

If the dentist feels your teeth are prone to decay, they might call for a fluoride treatment to protect your teeth from decay. This treatment involves biting down on a mouth tray containing fluoride gel, keeping it in place for at least one minute. This treatment protects your teeth for more than six months.

Bite and Jaw

The dentist assesses how well your teeth fit together by performing a bite and jaw exam. This exam is done via a machine that performs the Bite test to evaluate your bite. This test includes asking you to bite down on a sensor that shows the timing between your teeth's contact and the bite force you exert.

An essential part of a comprehensive dental exam is your interview with the dentist. First, they discuss with you the state of your oral health. The oral health status includes your risk percentage of gum disease, tooth decay, and other oral issues they may have observed.

 In addition, they will recommend the steps to take to prevent these issues and how to detect them at home. These steps include oral hygiene tips and any tools that you can use.

  1. Limited Oral Checkup

A dentist performs a limited oral exam in response to an oral issue you might have, such as an oral lesion or dental or pain. This checkup helps the dentist to make a proper diagnosis and the best line of treatment.

The dentist performs a visual check during such a checkup and may call for a more thorough exam using a 360-degree panoramic X-ray or bitewing x-rays if they cannot visually identify the issue. The diagnosis will determine the mode of treatment. You may get immediate treatment or given an appointment for a follow-up care routine.

  1. Periodic Oral Exam

A periodic oral exam happens as a follow-up to an earlier checkup. The oral exam allows the dentist to check for any issues that might have cropped up since your last comprehensive checkup or procedure. During this exam, the dentist performs a visual exam and sometimes does an x-ray.  

The exam may also involve a face and neck exam of your lymph nodes (visual and palpitation) to check for any abnormalities that may indicate disease. The dentist also examines your lips, tongue, gums, and other mouth surfaces to check for any anomalies or signs of disease.

The dentist uses a tool called an explorer to check each tooth for decay, gum recession around your gumline, stains, and the margins around and near any crowns and fillings.

Dental Impression

The dentist might need to take a dental impression of one or both of your jaws to make your teeth and oral tissue replica. This helps the dentist in evaluating your bite or make a bleaching tray or mouthguard. 


The dentist can use different methods to help in diagnosing any condition you might have. This includes

  • Visual oral exam
  • Intra-oral x-ray
  • Dental x-ray
  • Oral cancer screening
  • Discussing with you anything unusual you may have observed since your last visit

The Oral Cancer screening exam might include a visual exam of your soft tissue to check for any lumps, lesions, or other symptoms. If the oral exam alone is not conclusive, the dentist may refer you to an oral surgeon for further investigations and a second opinion. They will obtain a biopsy of the suspicious area and take it to a lab for further analysis.

You may also get a special cancer screening that involves rinsing the mouth with dye and shining a special light inside your mouth to detect unhealthy or diseased areas that a visual, oral exam cannot detect.

You may be at risk of oral cancer if:

  • You are a regular tobacco user, such as cigars, dip, cigarettes, or pipes.
  • Use alcohol
  • You have an oral cancer history.

After the dental checkup/exam, the dentist will talk to you about your oral health, risks, and options. The dentist will then suggest the best time for a follow-up checkup.

The Different Types of Dental X-rays

The dentist may request dental X-rays to diagnose any existing or potential conditions requiring immediate attention. The dentist may request any one of these x-rays:

  • Bitewing: This X-ray allows the dentist to see the upper and lower teeth crowns. 
  • Periapical: This X-ray allows the dentist to have a look at the tooth and the surrounding bone
  • Occlusal: This X-ray allows the dentist to observe how your upper and lower teeth align with your jaw closed.
  • Panoramic: This X-ray gives the dentist a view of your entire mouth
  • Cone Beam Computerized tomography: This X-ray gives the dentist a 3-D view of your mouth. It allows the dentist to gauge how well your teeth and adjacent structures are spaced.

How Often Should You Visit the Dentist for a Checkup?

Regular dentist visits are an essential aspect of your oral health and hygiene for various reasons, such as cleaning.

However, much you brush or floss, you will still get plaque build-up over time. The plaque becomes tartar and eventually causes gum disease and cavities. Your dentist has the expertise and the tools to remove the tartar and clean your teeth in ways you cannot. Some of the tools used include:

  • Mirrors

A dentist uses a small and hand-held mirror to look at the back of your mouth and your teeth’ back surfaces. The mirrors reflect light, and your dentist can see the tartar or calculus deposits much better.

  • Scalers

Scalers are metallic hand-held devices your dentist uses to scrape off the tartar from your teeth. The scaler is double-sided, with one pointed end used to scrape off tartar above the gumline. The other side is curved and cleans below the gumline without injuring your gums.

  • Polishers

After removing the plaque and tartar, the dentist uses a mildly abrasive paste and a polishing tool to polish your teeth, making them whiter.

Visit a dentist twice a year or every six months for a checkup to improve your oral health, hygiene and rule out any diseases like oral cancer.

The Most Common Dental Procedures

Dentists perform numerous procedures in their line of work. Here are some of the procedures that a dentist may recommend after a dental exam.

Root Canals

When your teeth have badly decayed, they may need extraction. If the dentist can salvage the teeth, then it is advisable to have a root canal operation. This procedure involves the removal of the tooth’s internal pulp tissue from the tooth's root chamber. Next, the hollow tooth is filled with a filling and fitted with a crown to cap it for protection.

Dental Implants

Dental implants are the solution to broken or missing teeth. Gaps in your teeth make the rest of the teeth drift and weaken the jawbone, which leads to more problems as time goes by. Dental implants fill in the gaps by mimicking the natural teeth, preventing the rest of the teeth from drifting out of their place.

Dental implants are made of titanium posts fixed into your jawbone, with which they fuse after some time. The crown is set to the dental implant via abutments. The abutments are screwed into the implants, and the crown connects to the abutment. Dental implants can replace as many teeth as needed.

Dental Crowns

You can get different crowns such as porcelain, ceramic, zirconia, composite resin, porcelain fused with metal and gold. Each type of dental crown has its advantages. For example, metal crowns are strong, and porcelain crowns are more aesthetic. Porcelain fused with metal is both solid and beautiful, and the dentist will help you choose the best type of crown for you.

Whitening, Bonding, and Veneers

You may need to improve your teeth’s appearance in some situations, and dental crowns are unnecessary. Some stubborn stains that cannot be removed from your teeth with brushing need you to whiten your teeth. Dentists whiten teeth using professional bleaches, and the results last much longer.

Tooth bonding fills ibn discoloration or small chips with a tooth-colored resin. The resin cures very fast under an extremely high-intensity light, instantly eliminating your tooth imperfection. Porcelain veneers are used to cover up any defects as bonding does, but they cover a more considerable extent of the tooth. The veneers are also used to fill gaps.

Why Dentists Call Out Numbers During Cleaning

Numbers at a dentist are a measurement of your oral health status. Some numbers like 24 or 18 are tooth numbers to identify teeth. When a dentist calls 1,2, or 3, it’s a measurement of gum attachment to your tooth.

Tooth number 1 is the molar and furthest back on the right. It continues all across the top teeth and reaches number 16, the molar on the left. The same continues from the back left molar or number 17 to the right side mola, number 32. Most people do not have wisdom teeth, so they only have 28 teeth.

Does Insurance Cover Dental Exams and Checkups?

Dental insurance varies based on the plan you are on and your insurance company. A general dental insurance policy covers:

  • Regular checkups and dental cleaning of twice a year, but you may be required to do an out-of-pocket copay
  • Extractions
  • Cavity filling
  • Crowns, implants, and bridges
  • Root canals
  • Dental
  • Appliances like retainers
  • Emergency dental procedures like oral surgery

Some dental services or equipment may have some coverage, but depending on your plan. Preventive procedures like cleaning are fully covered, while some procedures like emergency oral surgery or fillings may incur high out-of-pocket costs. You may pay a deductible before coverage before such procedures. This deductible does not apply to preventive care.

Most dental insurance plans cover basic preventive and dental work, but some procedures are not provided for most plans, such as tooth-colored (composite) fillings. Coverage by most insurance plans is mostly for silver (amalgam) fillings.

Policy holders are tasked with paying for the difference if they prefer to get tooth-colored fillings. Others include dental care for persons with pre-existing medical conditions, orthodontic treatments such as braces, or cosmetic procedures like whitening. Insurance policies are different, so you need to confirm what you are covered for and know your limits.

Does Health Insurance Cover Dental Procedures?

Dental insurance is offered in three different situations:

  • Employer-sponsored plan
  • Self-sponsored health plan
  • Stand-alone dental plan or a rider in either an employee-based or self-sponsored plan

Not all health insurance covers dental procedures. In the healthcare law, dental care is not essential health care for adults. This means that health insurance has no obligation to provide dental coverage for individuals over 18 years. 

Insurance companies are not obligated to provide adult dental insurance, but it is essential for children. In addition, health care law states that dental benefits should be offered to children under 18 and not bought.

If you are in an emergency or extreme situation like a car accident that injures your jaw, gums, and teeth, your health insurance plan might pay for the expenses of fixing them.

Does Insurance Pay for Sedation Dentistry?

In most cases, insurance does not pay for expenses incurred by sedation dentistry. Therefore, sedation dentistry is considered a luxury treatment/procedure like cosmetic surgery or dental implants. 

However, sedation dentistry is expensive, and sometimes, the cost of sedating the patient might be equal to or more than the cost of the entire treatment. Therefore, the argument by insurance companies is that covering sedation dentistry will mean high premiums. 

High premiums will mean less business for the insurance companies. Sedation is only used for patients who cannot be awake during procedures such as a disability like Cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, mental health issues. The insurance company will also likely pay for sedation if done via nitrous oxide instead of intravenous sedation, which is more costly. Sedation may also be used if the procedure is complex, such as oral surgery.

Coding Dental Exam Visits

Coding dental exam visits is essential for dental billing. Numerous people get confused about the medical codes they should use. The ADA recommends that people make regular dentist visits, with the frequency based on an individual’s oral health history and status.

There are six dental examination codes everyone should know about:

  • D0120-Periodic Oral Exam- established patient- This evaluation is for established patients for determining medical health and dental health status since the last assessment. It includes oral cancer and periodontal screening and interpretation of data obtained from different diagnostic procedures.
  • D0180-Comprehensive Periodontal Evaluation- new or established patient: This code reports evaluating the periodontal conditions, probing, charting, evaluating new or established patients' medical and dental history, and a general health evaluation.
  • D0150-Comprehensive Oral Evaluation, new or established patient- This code is used when a dental and general dentist examines a patient. It applies to both new and established patients. It may encompass a periodontal screening and reports any soft tissue anomalies but requires no recording. D0160: detailed oral evaluation- This code indicates the integration of diagnostics required to develop a treatment plan for a specific condition. Description and documentation are required. These include conditions like perio-prosthetic conditions and those that need consultation across disciplines.
  • D0170- Re-valuation -established patient, but not post-operative. This code assesses an existing condition that is trauma-related or a follow-up. Documentation is necessary to justify the need for this exam.

You must use the proper codes when reporting a dental exam visit to indicate what was done during the visit. The codes ensure you bill the proper procedure and you are reimbursed appropriately and on time. Using the updated CDT codes ensures you avoid complications and other barriers to reimbursement.

Find a Lomita Dentist Near Me

To find top-quality dentists in California's LA and South Bay areas, you need dentistry like Washington Dental, who will walk with you every step of the journey in caring for your oral health. We have UCLA and USC graduates who can perform various dental procedures, from cosmetic to orthodontic procedures. Call our dentistry at 310-326-5183 to speak to one of our highly trained dentists about your options. You deserve the very best oral care!