Cavities,  Decay,  DIY

DIY dental checkups – self-checking and diagnosing teeth for cavities

 This article is under development, please check back later for more information. Before reading the article please read the disclaimer and be sure that you have fully understood it.

Caution! This article is for dental nerds or people who would love to see and know more than a regular patient. Please be aware that self-checking your teeth does not substitute checkup performed by a dentist and it should not prolong intervals between seeing your dentist. If anything, it should make you visit your dentist sooner if you notice any spots that bother you.

In this article you will learn following skills:

  1. professional naming of teeth and their surfaces
  2. what is the purpose of checking your teeth
  3. what tools do you need for self-checking your teeth
  4. how to perform proper self-checkup
  5. what to look for and if dark spots are always caries
  6. what to do if you spot anything alarming on your teeth

1. Tooth surfaces

Each of your teeth have 5 surfaces that need to be inspected when doing a self-check. Let’s learn the naming system of them before we begin, as this will surely make it easier for you to communicate anything troublesome to your dentist. To identify a specific area of a tooth you name the tooth by its number (see next paragraph for reference), but also it is necessary to utilize a specific named surface, according to where it is located. Please see the list below for reference:

Distal – The surface that is away from the midline of the face.
Facial – The surface that faces the cheeks or lips. Can also use the terms:
Labial – The surface towards the lips.
Buccal – The surface towards the cheeks.
Incisal – The biting edge of an anterior tooth.
Lingual – The surface that faces the tongue.
Mesial – The surface that is closest to the midline of the face.
Occlusal – The chewing surface of posterior teeth.
Proximal – Tooth surfaces that are next to each other (i.e., distal of lateral incisor and mesial of canine).

Teeth types and their numbers

To precisely communicate which teeth you mention it is important to learn the Universal System, in which permanent dentition is numbered from 1-32 beginning with the maxillary right third molar. There are also other designation and identification systems but in English speaking countries this one is the most popular.

2. What is the purpose of doing self-checkups?

Why should I do that if I’m visiting my dentist every 6 months? – you may ask. While this is a good question, the answer may surprise you! Thing is, with regular weekly checkups we’re not looking for cavities or decay (caries) – instead, you’ll be mostly looking for white spots on your teeth. These are signs of demineralisation, which (if spotted early enough) is reversible. Being able to locate such spots right after they appear give you perfect conditions to prevent them from becoming a cavity – yes, you heard us right: dental caries are fully preventable.

3. What will you need to self-check your teeth?

While you may be able to see some parts of your lower and upper teeth by just starting into a mirror please be aware that accessories listed below are necessary to be able to see your teeth well – that is every surface of every tooth.

  • small regular mirror ie. from a makeup kit
  • dental mirror
  • highly absorbent towel
  • LED flashlight with adjustable output power
  • regular bathroom mirror on the wall
  • …and last but not least: skill and knowledge

4. How to perform proper self-checkup?

Obviously you need to have your teeth cleaned so start with flossing (or use a waterpik), then brush your teeth well, 3 minutes should be enough. Remember not to brush too hard and use proper brushing technique, if uncertain please check our site for help. Now, remember how your dentist looks at your teeth? He dries them using compressed air – that’s because saliva makes it difficult for proper assesment. Since you have no compressed air you can use a highly absorbent towel instead. Just remember to spit saliva first, then use towel to dry remaining moisture that’s left in your mouth. No you have about a minute to have a look, then you can of course repeat the drying procedure if you need some extra time.
Now stand in front of your bathroom mirror and grab a LED flashlight and a dental mirror. To see everything clearly remember not to use the flashlight at full power, since it may be too bright at that setting. Remember that every tooth has 5 surfaces so that is what you want to check. If you already have some fillings be extra careful to look at their margins.

5. What to look for and if dark spots are always caries

You may think that tooth decay presents itself as brown or black spots on your teeth. While this of course is true, you may be suprised that it’s not these kind of spots that we’ll be looking for. Given that you visit your dentist (at least) every 6 months and during your last appointment your dentist have fixed all the decay or simply said that your teeth are fine quite likely that there will be no decay presenting as dark spots. Instead you will be looking for white spots, so called white spot lesions, that are signs that your enamel is demineralized.

6. So I spotted white lesions on my teeth, what should I do?

It is really powerful to know that you have white spot lesions on your teeth, because they are fully reversible, so you can heal your teeth without having them drilled. Below we present steps to achive this goal:

  1. Limit your carbohydrate intake
  2. Improve your oral hygiene
  3. Use fluoride gel or have varnish applied by your dentist
  4. Use liquid enamel remineralizing gel with hydroxyapatite
  5. Have your teeth checked
  6. Find a dentist that performs ozone therapy ie. HealOzone

This article is still work in progress and was last updated on June 3, 2020.

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