Clinical Inquiries

What is the optimal frequency for dental checkups for children and adults?

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It is unclear, but studies suggest that it should be based largely on individual risk. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a 6-month interval for preventive dental visits (strength of recommendation [SOR]: C, expert opinion), but a 24-month interval does not result in an increased incidence of dental caries in healthy children and young adults or increased incidence of gingivitis in healthy adults (SOR: B, a single randomized controlled trial [RCT]). In adults with risk factors (eg, smoking or diabetes), visits at 6-month intervals are associated with a lower incidence of tooth loss (SOR: C, a retrospective cohort study). Children with risk factors (eg, caries) may benefit from a first dental visit by age 3 years (SOR: C, a retrospective cohort study).




A systematic review featured a single RCT (n=185) comparing the effect of a 12-month vs 24-month interval between dental visits on dental caries in low-risk 3- to 5-year-old children with primary teeth and young adults, ages 16 to 20 years, with permanent teeth.1 The outcomes of caries (ie, decayed, missing, filled surfaces increment) between the 12- and 24-month visits both in younger children (mean difference [MD]= -0.90; 95% confidence interval [CI], -1.96 to 0.16) and young adults (MD= -0.86; 95% CI, -1.75 to 0.03) did not differ.

Gingivitis: Not an issue when visits were delayed in healthy adults

Another systematic review (3 RCTs; N=836) evaluated the benefits associated with scaling and polishing in the prevention of gingivitis (primary outcome measure).2 One RCT (n=207) compared scaling and polishing at 6- and 12-month intervals to no treatment for 24 months in adults with healthy dental histories. There was no difference in the percentage of index teeth with bleeding in the 6-month or 12-month treatment groups compared to the group that received no treatment for 24 months (MD= -2%; 95% CI, -10% to 6% and MD= -1%; 95% CI, -9% to 7%, respectively).

2 visits/year prevents tooth loss in high-risk patients

A retrospective cohort study (N=5117) using 16 years of data evaluated the association between one or 2 preventive dental visits per year and tooth extraction events in adults at low risk and those at high risk for progressive periodontitis.3 Those at high risk had at least one of the following risk factors: smoking, diabetes, or interleukin-1 genotype. Low-risk patients had no difference in tooth loss with one visit compared to 2 visits annually (absolute risk reduction [ARR]=2.6%; 95% CI, 0.5%-5.8%; P=.092); however, high-risk patients had fewer events with 2 annual visits (number needed to treat [NNT]=19; ARR 5.2%; 95% CI, 1.8%-8.4%; P=.002).


Evidence-based answers from the Family Physicians Inquiries Network

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