People tend to shrug off their regular twice-yearly dental cleanings. There is the thought that they can do the same job at home, so why bother keeping your appointment with Gentle Dental or any other dentist. But there’s a reason all dentists recommend twice-yearly professional cleanings — that’s about the time it takes for plaque to build into tartar and for that tartar to start getting to the point of irritating the gums. That’s the beginning of the road to gum disease.
So, what’s involved in your cleanings?
Prophylaxis is the clinical term for the professional cleanings we do at Gentle Dental. The goal of these cleanings is twofold: to remove the plaque and tartar that has built up in your mouth, and to check and head off future oral problems such as gum disease and oral cancer.
During our cleanings we first check for signs of oral cancer. We look for visible signs: swellings, lumps, bumps, rough spots on the lips and gums, white speckled patches. We check the neck and throat for lumps. We look for any irregular tissue changes throughout the mouth, head, face, and neck. If you’re having certain symptoms such as chronic sore throat or numbness in any area of the face, mouth, neck, or ear, these are signals that oral cancer may have taken hold.
Next comes the cleaning. Plaque is the sticky substance that builds up on the teeth every day. You remove it at home with brushing and flossing, but rarely get it all. Certain areas in your mouth, such as the inside of your lower front teeth are areas where plaque accumulates and eventually becomes tartar. Once it develops, tartar, also known as calculus, cannot be removed at home as it adheres to the teeth too strongly.
And tartar is the problem. If your home hygiene is less than stellar, tartar can really take hold. Eventually it gets to the gums and begins irritating them. This is called gingivitis, which is simply gum irritation. At this point, our cleanings can stop this progression, but if you skip your cleanings for a couple years gingivitis turns into the beginning of gum disease. And the end of that path is tooth loss and other ugly circumstances.
So, in our cleanings, we break up the tartar on your teeth using an ultrasound pick. It uses high-frequency sound to create a vibration in the tartar, causing it to crack and break off the enamel of the teeth. From there, we finish removing all the tartar with hand picks, also known as scalers and curettes.
When we’ve removed all the tartar, your hygienist then applies a prophylactic paste that has more grit than normal toothpaste to your teeth. A polisher then lightly scrubs the teeth to a smooth, shiny finish.