Maintaining healthy teeth is incredibly important for numerous reasons. Aesthetics aside, having strong, healthy teeth is necessary for living an overall healthy lifestyle. The weaker our teeth are, the more susceptible they are to infection and the more susceptible we are to tooth loss. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, by the time an adult reaches the age of 50, he or she has already lost around twelve of his or her permanent teeth.
Adding to that alarming statistic, the top two reasons that people lose their teeth are periodontal disease and untreated cavities. In order to ensure that you do not become another statistic, visiting with your dentist for regular professional cleanings is imperative.
Why Do I Need Professional Teeth Cleanings?
Daily brushing and flossing are necessary for overall tooth health. However, brushing and flossing can only do so much. Over time, the surface of the teeth, as well as the gum line, will experience a build-up of plaque that ultimately hardens into a substance called tartar. While daily brushing and flossing cannot remove tartar, professional cleanings can.
Professional cleanings save the teeth from progressing cavities and periodontal disease. While it does involve taking time out of your day to visit with your dentist, the benefits of professional cleanings far outweigh the inconvenience. Regular cleanings help protect your teeth against the complications of things like gum disease (strokes, dementia, and heart disease have all been linked to gum disease).
Basic Dental Cleaning
There are two kinds of cleanings one can receive: a basic dental cleaning and a deep dental cleaning. For the general population, the Academy of General Dentistry places a strong recommendation on receiving a basic dental cleaning every six months (i.e. twice per year). While this is a general recommendation, it is important that you speak with your dentist to determine your frequency as the recommended frequency may be increased to four times per year if a patient has certain risk factors.
The risk factors that increase one’s annual dental-cleaning frequency are:
- A poor oral health routine
- Use of tobacco
- Old age
- A compromised immune system, such as those affected by HIV/AIDS, leukemia, or chemotherapy
- Poor eating habits
- Hormonal changes due to pregnancy, menopause, or certain medications
- Substance abuse
- A poor bite
- Dental restorations that do not fit properly
- Hereditary conditions
What to Expect
A basic cleaning first begins with a dentist inspecting the teeth and gums. Then, scalers are used to remove tartar. Once the tartar has been removed, a dental hygienist will use tooth polishers to polish the enamel of the teeth and will then rinse the mouth out. After the cleaning, a professional flossing ensues, and one final rinse wraps things up.
Deep Dental Cleaning
When a patient visits a dentist for a cleaning, one of the first things that happens is that the hygienist measures the distance between a tooth and the gum tissue that surrounds it. This is to determine whether or not pocketing has occurred. If the space between the tooth being measured and the gums is greater than or equal to 5 millimeters, a deep cleaning will likely be recommended.
A deep cleaning will also be recommended if a patient has gone a considerable amount of time without a routine cleaning or if he or she has a moderate form of gum disease. If your dentist recommends a deep cleaning, it is essential that the cleaning is carried out as quickly as possible to prevent complications like tooth loss.
What to Expect
Deep scaling and root planing occur in a deep dental cleaning. While a basic dental cleaning involves scaling, a deep cleaning involves much more extensive scaling that usually goes beneath the surface of the gum line. Additionally, root planing thoroughly removes plaque from the teeth and is typically done using an ultrasonic device that essentially vibrates the plaque off of the surface of the teeth. A hygienist then goes in manually with a curette (a tool that is similar to the scaling tool but is smaller and utilizes a finer blade) to remove any remaining plaque.
Finally, a dental hygienist will irrigate the mouth with an antibiotic. The dentist may also prescribe an oral antibiotic and will likely request a second appointment that acts as a follow-up to ensure that the mouth is no longer infected and is healing nicely.