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How to Master a Complete Dental Examination

Complete Dental ExaminationThe key to offering complete dentistry starts with a thorough complete examination. The Dawson Academy’s dental examination course teaches us all the elements essential for a complete exam, but the order and how each Dentist explains this to patients can vary.
The following is a step-by-step process that my practice follows.


  1. Meet the patient, hear their chief concerns, review the medical history and determine what x-rays need to be taken.  I prefer a current full mouth series of x-rays.  Then the assistant takes the x-rays and four photos, which includes a full face, smile and upper and lower occlusal shots. 
  2. Evaluate each tooth, record periodontal probings, current restorations, decay, recession, mobility and wear. 
  3. Complete the oral cancer screening, muscle exam, evaluate range of motion, listen to the joint sounds with a doppler, record right and left working and balancing side contacts and record protrusive contacts.
  4. Load test the joint using bimanual manipulation to evaluate the health of the joint and determine the first point of contact along with the amount and direction of any slide that is present. 

Educating your Patients

During the entire exam I am educating the patient on what is stable and unstable.  Along with the photos, I also use a hand mirror to help the patient see themselves and how the teeth fit together during excursions to help them understand why the teeth are wearing and helping them understand if they do nothing they will continue to wear. 

Is your Patient Owning their Problem?

The key I have found over the years is as you are educating your patient you need to be listening if they are in return asking you questions.  If questions aren’t being asked then the patient is usually not owning the problem at this point.  This is the patient you would not move to records at this point. 
The patients that are asking questions on what can we do to fix it and change the environment, these are the patients I have return for a records appointment to take study models, Dawson photo series, facebow and CR bite record which allows me to be thorough in treatment planning the case.  I let the patient know that I want to give them the best treatment possible with the least amount of dentistry and that is why I need the study models to make that decision.

Get your patients to desire complete dentistry by taking the time to do a thorough complete exam.  You won’t regret it!

To learn more about providing a complete examination, you may want to consider taking our dental examination course, “Examination and Records.” Click here to learn more.

Dr. Laura Wittenauer has her private practice in Newport Beach, California. A native of western Kansas, Dr. Laura attended Kansas State University where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Pre-Dentistry. She then attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry. After graduating she initially established her practice in Lawrence, Kansas for eighteen years. Dr. Laura and her family relocated to southern California to allow her husband to attend the University of Southern California School of Dentistry and complete a residency program in Endodontics. Dr. Laura’s practice focuses on helping patients achieve optimum oral health. The most rewarding aspect of her practice is taking care of special needs patients. She is active in many professional and civic organizations including the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, California Dental Association of which she is a member of Board of Managers, Orange County Dental Society. She especially enjoys helping dentists learn at the Dawson Academy in St. Petersburg, Florida. She is a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority and served as Alumni Advisory Chairman. She also serves as a eucharistic minister and lector for her church. Dr. Laura and her husband of twenty-six years, Rick, have two children. They enjoy participating in activities with their children, attending USC sporting events, running and golf.