Even if you brush and floss your teeth faithfully, you must have your teeth professionally cleaned regularly.
Even if you brush and floss your teeth faithfully, you must have your teeth professionally cleaned regularly. (Of course, it’s even more critical if you aren’t quite so meticulous about your oral hygiene!) After a thorough cleaning, your teeth will feel smooth and squeaky clean, and they will look a lot brighter too. But professional teeth cleanings aren’t done for looks alone.
Why do your teeth need this kind of attention? Essentially, it’s because, over time, they tend to build up a layer of plaque (a sticky, bacteria-rich film) and hard deposits (called tartar or calculus) that are very difficult to remove without special tools. These deposits on the tooth surfaces or below the gum line provide ideal conditions for bacteria to grow and multiply. The acids produced by some bacteria cause tooth decay and gum disease; if left uncontrolled, this can lead to inflammation and infection of the gums and possibly influence systemic (whole-body) diseases.
Dentists have a special term for preventive procedures like tooth cleaning: prophylaxis, from the Greek word meaning to protect or guard against. In this case, the focus is on preventing tooth decay and gum disease. A professional cleaning can go a long way toward controlling these two common maladies when performed in conjunction with a routine dental examination. While your teeth are being cleaned, it’s also a good opportunity to look closely at your oral health and check for a few specific problems.
Teeth cleaning is often performed by a dental hygienist — a highly trained technician who uses a unique set of tools designed just for this purpose. Because everyone’s teeth are slightly different, your cleaning will be tailored to your needs. However, many cleanings follow a similar pattern.
First, the dental hygienist will do an oral examination to evaluate the health of your oral tissues. Then the cleaning will use either an ultrasonic scaler or metal instruments called curettes to remove the plaque and calculus from the tooth surfaces. An ultrasonic scaler is a hand-held tool with a tiny tip that vibrates at a very high frequency. Hardened deposits are broken up by the rapid movement of the tip, which does not damage the tooth. A constant stream of liquid (called lavage) serves to cool the tip and aid in plaque removal; at the same time, it also washes away the debris.
Some hygienists prefer curettes, hand-held instruments that are curved and tapered to fit around and between the teeth. Hand-held instruments may be more comfortable for professional cleaning if your teeth are sensitive. In the capable hands of a hygienist or dentist, it takes only moderate pressure to remove any stubborn buildup and scrub the teeth clean, regardless of which instruments are used.
Finally, your teeth are polished with a low-speed rotary brush fitted with a soft rubber tip. A slightly gritty, toothpaste-like gel is applied, and the tip spins around and polishes the teeth, making them smooth and shiny.
Most people don’t feel any noticeable discomfort during dental cleanings; some even report they enjoy the experience — especially the dramatic results when it’s done! If you haven’t had a cleaning in a while, however, it may take you a few moments to get used to getting your teeth cleaned. If you experience any discomfort, however, applying a topical numbing gel or another type of anesthetic may be possible.
If your gums are irritated due to bacterial buildup, they may become sore or bleed slightly during the cleaning. It is possible to prevent this from occurring in the future with oral hygiene measures you can perform at home (such as improved flossing techniques or special mouth rinses); it also indicates that you need more frequent in-office cleanings. This type of regular maintenance will help you avoid more involved dental procedures down the road and give you the best chance of keeping your teeth for life!