Dental check-ups not needed every six months for healthy adults, report suggests

Alexandra Thompson
·4-min read
examination and treatment of the teeth in the dental clinic
Dental check-ups can detect everything from gum disease to oral cancer. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

Not everyone requires a dental check-up every six months, a report suggests.

Dentists generally recommend adults book an appointment twice a year to ensure their teeth, mouth and gums are healthy.

To better understand the optimal check-up interval, medics from the University of Dundee analysed two studies with more than 1,700 participants between them.

Read more: Dentists running at 'fraction of pre-pandemic capacity'

They found “there was little to no difference” in the oral health of adults who had an appointment every six, 12 or 24 months, or on an as-needed basis. They stressed this was not the case for children or those requiring emergency care.

The medics hope their report will provide some “reassurance” as many complain of difficulty booking a dental check-up amid the pandemic.

Non-emergency appointments were largely put on hold after the coronavirus emerged; however, surgeries in England are starting to offer routine procedures again.

Young man and young woman in urban environment using protective face masks
The coronavirus outbreak has left some struggling to book routine dental appointments. (Posed by models, Getty Images)

“This evidence is valuable when considering the significant impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic and its effect on dental services worldwide, limiting patient access for dental treatment,” said lead author Patrick Fee.

“Patient access to dental care may remain limited for some time.

Read more: Millions all over England struggle to see NHS dentist

“However, the results of this review provide reassurance to those providing and seeking dental treatment that intervals between check-ups can be extended beyond six months without detriment to the oral health of patients.”

Watch: Coronavirus rate less than 1% among US dentists

Dental check-ups can detect everything from a build-up of plaque and gum disease, to cavities and even oral cancer.

An adult with no pressing concerns is typically recommended to book another appointment in six months’ time.

While this may help ward off dental problems, the Dundee medics stressed it could also lead to unnecessary treatments. Patients generally have to contribute towards the cost of their dental care.

Less frequent check-ups could make treatments more tricky and expensive down the line, however.

To better understand the optimal interval between appointments, the medics analysed two studies.

The first looked at children and adults up to 20 years old who had a check-up once every 12 or 24 months in Norway.

The other study analysed 51 dental practices in the UK, comparing the effectiveness of appointments every six months, two years or according to the patient’s needs.

After looking at tooth decay, gum disease and the “quality of life related to having healthy teeth and gums”, the medics concluded there was “little to no difference between six-monthly and risk-based check-ups” and “probably little to no difference in how many people had moderate-to-extensive tooth decay”.

When comparing check-ups taking place once every six months, once every two years or on an at-need basis, the medics concluded there was “probably little to no difference” when it came to tooth decay, gum disease or wellbeing.

Read more: Tooth decay worse today than in 17th century

The results were published in the Cochrane Library, with Cochrane reviews considered the gold-standard of research.

“Whether adults see their dentist for a check-up every six months or at personalised intervals based on their dentist’s assessment of their risk of dental disease does not affect tooth decay, gum disease, or well-being,” wrote the scientists.

“Longer intervals (up to 24 months) between check-ups may not negatively affect these outcomes.”

There was insufficient evidence to evaluate the benefits of a check-up once a year or once every two years among children and teenagers.

“This review finds a personalised check-up frequency based on likely oral disease risk is not detrimental to oral health and is acceptable to patients,” said Fee.

“There has been a longstanding international debate about the optimal frequency of dental check-ups, and this review includes the most current and robust evidence available to investigate this issue.

“But it should be stressed this is about adults having routine check-ups, not those who need to seek emergency treatment or children.”

Watch: The importance of flossing

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