On average, most people should see a dentist for a checkup twice per year. However, even though these checkups happen so often, many patients don't know the ins and outs of what their dentist is examining. Here are four little-known ways your dentist might check on your oral health beyond looking at your teeth and gums. 

1. Dentists check for cancer

Did you know that many dentists check their patients for early signs of oral cancer during regular checkups? Oral cancer is the growth of abnormal cells on the lips, tongue, or inside the mouth. Just like most types of cancer, oral cancer has a good prognosis when it is caught early, which is why dentists often check for signs during checkups. Some warning symptoms of mouth cancer, for example, include white or reddish patches inside the mouth, sores that don't heal, and growths or lumps. 

2. Dentists examine your bite

Alongside checking whether your teeth are in good condition, your dentist will also look at their position. Bad bite or teeth misalignment can lead to a lot of uncomfortable consequences, from pain to difficulty chewing and even gum disease if your occlusion affects how well you can brush. Generally, if teeth haven't become too misaligned, your dentist should be able to recommend relatively simple corrective options such as a retainer. 

3. Dentists inspect your salivary glands

During a dental checkup, a dentist often examines the patient's salivary glands to make sure these are healthy and well-functioning. It is important that your glands are always working properly because saliva is responsible for keeping teeth clean, and having a healthy saliva flow will help prevent infections in the mouth. While a full salivary gland checkup may require an endoscopy, dentists can spot lumps in the glands without special tools.

4. Dentists check tonsils

Another examination many dentists do during checkups is tonsil examination. The tonsils are two sponge-like tissues located on either side of your throat that work to trap germs from entering the body. Dentists can check for signs of infection or swelling that could cause problems like obstructed sleep, difficulty swallowing, and much more. Your dentist may also be able to check for signs of tonsil stones, which can cause discomfort and bad breath. While dentists can't perform any kind of surgery on your tonsils, they can recommend various remedies to deal with tonsil issues, such as medicated mouthwash.