A professional dental cleaning (dental prophylaxis) is a cleaning procedure that thoroughly cleans the teeth. Cleanings are an excellent way to help keep the oral cavity in good health, and halt the progression of gum disease (gingivitis and periodontal disease).
Cleaning is recommended twice annually as a preventative measure, but should be performed every 3-4 months on sufferers from periodontal disease. Though periodontal disease cannot be completely reversed, cleaning is one of the tools the dentist can use that effectively halts its destructive progress. Cleanings are usually performed by Registered Dental Hygienists, but some dentists prefer to perform all cleanings.
Your cleaning appointment will include a comprehensive dental exam that offers several benefits:
- Removal of plaque. Plaque is a sticky, almost invisible film that forms on the teeth. It is a growing colony of living bacteria, food debris and saliva. The bacteria produce toxins (poisons) that inflame the gums. This inflammation is the start of periodontal disease.
- Removal of calculus (tartar). Calculus is hardened plaque that has been left on the tooth for some time, and becomes firmly attached to the tooth surface. Calculus forms above and below the gum line. It can only be removed with special dental instruments, and can cause serious periodontal disease if left untreated. With even the best brushing and flossing homecare techniques, it can be impossible to remove debris, bacteria and deposits from gum pockets. The experienced eye of a dentist using specialized scaling tools and dental equipment is needed in order to spot and treat problems such as plaque and calculus buildup.
- Teeth polishing. Remove stain and plaque that is not otherwise removed during tooth brushing and scaling.
- Aesthetics. It is hard to feel confident about a smile marred by yellowing, stained teeth. Cleaning can rid the teeth of unsightly stains and return the smile to its former glory.
- Fresher breath. Periodontal disease is often signified by persistent bad breath (halitosis). Bad breath is generally caused by a combination of rotting food particles below the gum line, possible gangrene stemming from gum infection, and periodontal problems. The removal of plaque, calculus and bacteria noticeably improves breath and alleviates irritation.
- Identification of health issues. Many health problems first present themselves to the dentist. Since cleaning involves a thorough examination of the entire oral cavity, the dentist is able to screen for oral cancer, evaluate the risk of periodontal disease and often spot signs of medical problems like diabetes and kidney problems. Recommendations can also be provided for altering the home care regimen.
Cleaning can either be performed in the course of a regular dental visit or, if necessary, under general anesthetic. The latter is particularly common where severe periodontal disease is suspected or has been diagnosed by the dentist. An endotracheal tube is sometimes placed in the throat to protect the lungs from harmful bacteria that will be removed from the mouth.
Cleaning is generally performed in several stages:
- Supragingival cleaning (scaling). The dentist will thoroughly clean the area above the gum line with scaling tools to rid them of plaque and calculus.
- Subgingival (deep) cleaning (scaling). This is the most important step for patients with periodontal disease because the dentist is able to remove calculus from the gum pockets and beneath the gum line.
- Root planing. This is the smoothing of the tooth root by the dentist to eliminate any remaining bacteria. These bacteria are extremely dangerous to periodontitis sufferers, so eliminating them is one of the top priorities of the dentist.
- Medication. Following scaling and root planing, an antibiotic or antimicrobial cream is often placed in the gum pockets. These creams promote fast and healthy healing in the pockets and help ease discomfort.