All patients who come to our practice have what we call a Smile Assessment. This simple, yet comprehensive assessment is a foundational step in our care, which is why I wanted to go over it in detail and explain why we consider it so important.
The Smile Assessment Starts with Images and Information
The Smile Assessment is a one-hour appointment that starts with a greeting by the Treatment Coordinator and a tour of the office where you will meet many of the team members and learn about the many unique amenities in our office. Next comes the technology. A technician takes digital photos of the mouth, then a panoramic X-ray is done. These images are uploaded to the computer.
After this, the patient goes into an exam room with the Treatment Coordinator to discuss health history, why the patient is here today, and any other relevant information. Then I meet with the patient (or if the patient is a child, with the child and parents). We talk, I look at the images and information that’s already been collected, and I take a look inside the patient’s mouth.
The In-Person Exam Follows
Even with all our advanced technology, there’s no substitute for an in-person exam. Visual inspection and even feeling the gums, jaw joints, and teeth can be the best ways to find some conditions such as gum disease and to assess the patient’s oral hygiene habits. Looking in a patient’s mouth also allows me to examine their bite, which has a big impact on treatment.
Beyond teeth alignment and bite, orthodontists are able to assess and detect other problems in the mouth that might have an effect on treatment, such as missing teeth or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD, a disorder of the jaw joint) can affect orthodontic treatment. Orthodontists may also be able to detect things you’d never think of, such as oral cancer or tumors. I once saw a pituitary tumor in a patient’s brain on his X-ray, which led to a referral to an oncologist and treatment that saved his life. Of course, the vast majority of Smile Assessments don’t turn up such results, but it does show the power of the exam.
Finally, We Discuss Options and I Answer Questions
Once I understand what’s going on with the patient’s mouth and smile, it’s time to discuss options. I explain what I’ve seen and what I recommend in terms of treatment plans. Many times, there are multiple options available, and I go over the pros and cons of each in detail. For example, there are many kinds of braces available these days, including metal braces, clear braces, lingual aligners, and clear aligners, each with their own pros and cons.
An important part of this discussion is helping the patient visualize the final outcome. I use photos of the patient themselves when I can to illustrate what I’m talking about and occasionally before-and-after photos of other patients. Even better, with technology it’s possible to show people what their results will look like using 3-D scans of their teeth and computer modeling. Simply seeing what their final result will be is enough for some patients to take the step to start treatment.
Why the Smile Assessment is So Important
The Smile Assessment is important because you can’t know where you’re going or how to get there if you don’t know where you are. It’s the best way my team and I have found to assess the health of the patients’ mouth and teeth, understand their goals, communicate what we can offer, and select a treatment plan together to move forward on. The Smile Assessment is only the beginning. Once treatment starts, that’s when the real magic begins!