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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. 
patient education during complete exam

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.
Picture of Dr. Laura Wittenauer

Dr. Laura Wittenauer is a senior faculty member at The Dawson Academy, where she teaches the Core Curriculum with fellow faculty members. She owns and operates her private practice in Newport Beach, California. Dr. Wittenauer’s practice focuses on helping patients achieve optimum oral health.