Do I really need my teeth cleaned twice each year?

My insurance only covers cleaning once a year now.  Do I really need to come in twice a year?

The short answer is: “Only if you want to keep your teeth”.

The thought process usually goes something like this…

“I skipped two cleanings.  When I went back, I didn’t have ANY cavities!  Maybe I only need to get my teeth cleaned once every year or two… it would definitely save me some money!”


“I’ve been getting my teeth cleaned twice per year for as long as I can remember.  I haven’t had a cavity in a couple years.  Maybe I can start skipping every other cleaning…”

Seems logical on the surface… but I’d like to point out a few faulty premises that this line of thinking is built upon:

  1. “I’ve never had a cavity… so, I don’t get cavities”  The oral cavity is in a constant state of change.   Even for the few patients who have immaculate oral hygiene and impeccable diets, other factors like medication changes, new or worsening health problems, diet changes, and the normal aging process can affect their decay rate and gum health.
  2. A check up with no cavities = perfect oral health.   Limiting decay is only half the battle.  Gum disease is the other cause of tooth loss that many people do not consider. And once bone support is lost, it’s not coming back. This is one of the main roles of regular dental cleanings: to restore and maintain healthy gums and bone support.
  3. “I don’t have a cavity now so I don’t have to worry about decay”  In actuality, cavities can (and usually do) develop slowly.  If your oral environment is tipped only slightly towards decay, you could have slowly forming soon-to-be cavities that need monitoring.  This is the time frame when prevention is key.  A little early detection can save teeth and money in the future.

Although sometimes it’s necessary to miss a cleaning (life happens!), the ADA recommends check up and cleanings at 6 month intervals for a reason. The key to oral health is prevention and early detection.  The difference between a small filling and a root canal or extraction is only a matter of time.  The more often your teeth are examined, the earlier any problems you might have will be detected, and the easier and less expensive the solution will tend to be.