By the time we reach our 50th birthday, on average we have lost about 12 of our permanent teeth. No kidding! That alarming statistic from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) should dispose of any misconception that tooth loss is only a challenge for older Americans or an 18th Century complaint.
While the loss of many of these permanent teeth are the result of traumatic events, such as vehicular accidents, sports injuries, and violence, the NIH is clear: the top two reasons we lose our permanent are cavities and periodontal disease, as well as its precursor, gingivitis.
In the normal course of the day our teeth and gums face attacks from bacteria, viruses and even parasites. They all pose health risks, but it is the bacterial colonies that form that gelatinous film on our teeth, commonly known as plaque, that set the conditions for cavities to form and for periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, to occur.
As oral bacterial colonies consume the sugars from the food and liquids we ingest, they secrete acid, which if not removed, will eventually erode away the natural defenses of our teeth, gums and lower gum tissue. There is only one way to put up the most complete defense against plaque: regular professional teeth cleaning.
Why teeth need professional cleaning
Think of professional cleaning as a super weapon in the anti-plaque – anti gum disease arsenal. An at-home oral hygiene routine protects against plaque, but just for a time. Plaque builds up on the surface of the teeth and along the gum line, and eventually hardens into tartar.
Professional cleaning not only levels the field, it saves our permanent teeth, our health, and our pocketbook. Consider the costs in terms of stress, money and time it would take to undergo a root canal, or a tooth extraction, or implant. Additionally, periodontal disease can adversely affect our general health, and has been linked to heart disease, dementia and even strokes.
Despite the fact that almost half of all adults aged 30 and older have chronic gum disease, most of us simply need a standard cleaning to prevent tooth decay and treat mild gum disease. For moderate to severe gum disease, deep cleaning is likely necessary to prevent serious infections and tooth loss.
The Academy of General Dentistry strongly recommends and most dentists advise their patients to seek standard cleaning once every six months. Patients should discuss the frequency of standard cleaning with their dentists bearing in mind that if the patient has one or more risk factors that lead to gum disease, standard cleaning should be sought at least twice a year, in some cases as often as four times a year.
According to the Mayo clinic the risk factors are:
- Poor oral health habits
- Tobacco use
- Older age
- Decreased immunity, such as that occurring with leukemia, HIV/AIDS or chemotherapy
- Poor nutrition
- Certain medications
- Hormonal changes, such as those related to pregnancy or menopause
- Substance abuse
- Poor-fitting dental restorations
- Problems with the way your teeth fit together when biting
What To Expect In A Standard Cleaning
While sitting in what should be a comfortable reclining chair, the dentist will begin by examining the teeth and gums, assessing where plaque is most prevalent and the gums’ state of health, before starting the real work.
The dental team uses a variety of tools to clean the teeth, which include a small mirror, a variety of scalers (hook-like instruments with a pointed tip), a tooth polisher with an assortment of different sized heads, a small water hose, and a suction hose. Scalers gently work off stubborn, hard bits of tartar in the harder to reach places on the teeth’s surfaces, such as between teeth, just below the gum line, and some nooks on crowns. If the hygienist is taking time with a scraper, that means there more than just a little plaque build up. Temporary discomfort or sensitivity may be experienced.
The hygienist uses polishers in conjunction with flavored polish, which feels like sweet tasting, but gummy sand. The hygienist applies the polish with the polisher and gently rubs off what’s left of the tartar and literally polishes the enamel. After rinsing, the teeth feel silky smooth.
Next is a professional flossing. The hygienist flosses to ensure that any loosened bits of plague are not left behind in between the teeth or below the gum line. Sensitive gums may bleed a little. Throughout the standard cleaning session the hygienist will instruct a patient to rinse away bits of debris, detached tartar and plaque, and the remaining grains of the tooth polish.
During a standard cleaning, the hygienist will use a special instrument to measure the distance between a tooth and the surrounding gum tissue, to identify a condition called pocketing. A healthy pocket, the aforementioned space between the tooth and the gums, is roughly 3 mm or less. If the pocket is 5 mm or more, a dentist is likely to advise deep cleaning.
Deep cleaning is recommended in two instances: 1. When a patient has not received a standard cleaning for some time or has an amount of plaque build up that requires a more thorough cleaning; or 2. When the patient is suffering from moderate gum disease. If a dentist recommends deep cleaning, it is very important to follow through to prevent further tooth decay and or the worsening of periodontal disease as both can lead to the necessity of more expensive and invasive procedures, tooth loss, and possibly further general health complications.
What To Expect In A Deep Cleaning
Deep cleaning is a two-step process of deep scaling and tooth root planing, and is considered the gold standard by the Journal of Evidence Based Dental Practice for the treatment of chronic gum disease. In deep cleaning the scaling, which was explored above, is more extensive, going deeper under the surface of the gum line and always along the tooth’s surface. The hygienist may use a manual metal scaling tool, like the one described above, or ultrasonic or laser instruments.
Root planing is the thorough removal of plaque. Typically the hygienist will employ an ultrasonic device to vibrate the plaque off of the surface, before manually following up with a tool called a curette (similar to a scaler, but instead has a very small and fine blade) to ensure every piece of plaque is removed.
To safeguard that the bacterial infection is completely addressed, the hygienist will irrigate the entire area with an antibiotic medication. An oral antibiotic may also be prescribed. A second appointment is likely necessary to ensure that the infection does not return and that the gums and teeth are healing as expected.
At Jefferson Dental Clinics, the health and comfort of all of our patients is our mission. As discussed in The Five Tips to Have the Best Dental Appointment, if there are any concerns about pain, this should be discussed with the hygienist and dentist as more pain reduction options are available
Most patients like to have their teeth cleaned after their oral exam. We offer same day cleaning—even deep cleaning—so that you don’t have to make another trip.
We offer affordable dentistry with convenient hours at 50+ dental office locations in Dallas, Houston, Richardson, Arlington, Plano, Fort Worth, Grand Prairie, Irving, Aldine, Katy, Oak Cliff, Garland, Lewisville and more! Jefferson Dental accepts Medicaid, most dental insurance, and offers patients with no insurance deep discounts on treatment through our Sonrisa Dental Discount Plan.
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