The Complete Guide to Getting Your Teeth Cleaned at the Dentist

Have you ever had a professional dental clean? It is time to find out how this dental treatment can work wonders for the health of your gums and teeth.

 

guide to getting your teeth cleaned

Image from Amanda on Flickr.

If you have never experienced a full and comprehensive professional clean, performed by a dentist, it is time to pencil one into your diary for the month. It is, essentially, like a full car wash and valeting service for your mouth and teeth. The dentist takes a close look inside your mouth and then uses all of his tools and skills to give you a complete oral makeover.

According to dental health experts, a professional clean should be scheduled twice a year. And no dental care routine is complete with one. You can floss and brush as regularly as you like, but without feedback from a qualified specialist, it will be hard to know for sure whether your routine is proving effective.

You would not leave a car without a service for years at a time and still expect it to function as smoothly as the day you bought it. So, why would you expect your teeth to do the same? To stay healthy and strong, they need all of the help that they can get. This means regular brushing and flossing, on top of trips to the dentist and a healthy diet.

If you can keep up with all of these things, your teeth will have the best possible chance of lasting as long as you do. We now know that poor dental health contributes to a litany of serious health problems – coronary disease and kidney issues among them – so it is absolutely vital that you give your mouth the love and care that it deserves. And professional cleaning is an important part of this.

This guide to the benefits of professional cleaning will help you get to grips with the need for a full dental ‘valet’ service.

Things to Do Before You Go for a Clean

It is tempting to think of the mouth as a completely distinct and separate entity, set totally apart from the rest of the body. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The health of your teeth and gums can impact pretty much every part of the body. It is now thought that poor oral health increases the risk of contracting dementia by three times the regular amount.

So, understanding that the mouth and body are connected is the first lesson of putting together a solid dental health care routine. If you look after your teeth, the rest of your body will follow suit. For all of the reasons outlined above, your dentist will be interested in whether or not there is a history of cancer or heart disease in the family.

If you do not know for sure, find out. It could have an impact on the advice and recommendations that your dentist gives you. If any of your family members suffer from chronic gum disease or tooth infections, find out how often and why this might be the case. It is not always poor dental health alone to blame for infections; diabetes sufferers are more prone to developing problems with their teeth and gums.

Keeping Your Dentist Informed

Once you have this information, it is time to consider your own health. Are you on any prescription medications? Do you suffer with any underlying health conditions like diabetes or coronary heart disease? If there is any kind of health issue that compromises the strength of your immune system, you may need to ask your dentist for an antibiotic.

This is to safeguard you against the bacteria that are dislodged and ingested during a professional clean. The bacteria will come in the form of plaque and tartar and while it is pretty nasty stuff (and needs to be removed), it should pose no threat at all to a person with a reasonably healthy immune system. The only reason to ask for antibiotic is if you think that you have a condition that compromises this.  

It is a good idea to keep your dentist up to date and informed about all health issues and any changes that occur to your physical wellbeing. If your doctor prescribes you anything, you do need to tell the dentist, even if it seems like the two are unconnected. Prescription medications are notorious for causing dry mouth. If saliva production decreases, friction in the mouth increases and plaque is not washed away as regularly as it should be.

The Advantages of a Professional Clean

We are all guilty of taking our mouths for granted. These amazing talking, chewing, swallowing, and smiling machines work harder than almost any other part of the body, except for perhaps the heart. Yet, we bombard our teeth with sugary snacks, disregard the need for flossing, and avoid the dentist when it comes time to book a bi-annual appointment.

In fact, considering the beating that our mouths take every day, it is remarkable how sturdy and strong they remain. They do need our help though, because the teeth are a very special part of the body. Once a tooth has been lost, it cannot be regained. This is why brushing and maintaining a good oral health routine is essential. Yes, lost teeth can be replaced with artificial ones, but the mouth is never the same again.

The purpose of a professional clean is to, primarily, remove stubborn plaque and tartar. This can be controlled with brushing, but once calcified white spots have begun to appear on teeth, the only solution is to scrape them off. The best way to understand tartar and plaque build ups is to think of a great ship on the ocean. If it sails for long enough, it naturally accumulates barnacles on its bottom – plaque is the dental equivalent of barnacles.

Just as barnacles will eventually wear away at the bottom of a ship, so too does plaque eat away at tooth enamel. Plaque is made up of bacteria, so it never spells good news for teeth. Our mouths are constantly in the middle of a battle with plaque. It builds up as a result of a sugary diet and the immune system responds by fighting it off. Only the plaque builds too quickly for the immune system to handle it alone. This is why brushing is so important.

How Poor Dental Health Leads to Sickness

If your mouth is constantly ‘at war,’ it makes sense to think that it is always expending a great deal of energy. This is the reality of poor dental health. Once the mouth is so preoccupied with sending resources to fight off plaque, it starts to struggle in other areas of the body. It has fewer resources to spare and the chance of sickness gets much higher.

Ultimately, the immune system is not built to be at combat all the time. It cannot spread its soldiers so thinly and continue to protect the entire body. In the most extreme cases, the situation leads to strokes, heart disease, dementia, and a whole host of other ailments. Your part in the oral conflict is to provide your immune system with as much assistance as possible.

Once again, this means regular brushing and flossing. It means avoiding too many sugary snacks. It means keeping up with regular dental appointments and listening to the advice of your dentist. This is the only guaranteed way to protect the health of your teeth. Going for a professional clean, twice a year, is a recommended part of maintaining your dental routine. The following section will tell you what to expect from a professional clean.

What to Expect from a Cleaning Appointment

A good dental specialist will explain, all the way through the process, what is happening and why it is good for your teeth. If there are any minor side effects (like brief bleeding in the gums or sensitivity), they should inform you of this before the procedure starts. You might like to ask if you can watch the cleaning via a dental mirror. This is not for everybody, but if you have an interest in the treatment, don’t be afraid to show it.

For a lot patients, actually watching a dentist remove tartar and plaque is rather sobering. It is very different to hearing a specialist say ‘You need to treat your back molars more carefully,’ or ‘You have a build-up of tarter at the front of your mouth.’ You can see the crust and the bacteria being dislodged. In a lot cases, it functions as quite the ‘wake up’ call, so it could be worth gritting your teeth (hypothetically) and peeking at the procedure.

At the end of the cleaning, your dentist will sit down with you and talk about how to prevent plaque build ups in the future. This is valuable advice and should be listened to very carefully. If you need a flossing demonstration or you are not sure whether you are brushing properly, find your voice and ask. There is nothing at all to be embarrassed about and it certainly won’t be the first time that a dentist hears your query.

What to Do with Your Gum Disease Status

Most dentists will only go into detail about gum disease if they feel like you are at risk or they know that you have already started to develop symptoms. However, you can always ask for a direct diagnosis or status reading. The dentist will likely be delighted that you are interested, even if the response is fairly brief and very positive.

The stages of gum disease come in five distinct parts (or statuses). Your reading will be given in one of these five categories, with the worse gum disease being Type V. If you have no signs of gum disease whatsoever, you do not have a status – well done. For most people, the reading is a Type I or a Type II. These conditions are reversible, with the right dental health care routine.

No Gum Disease

This is clearly the best possible outcome. If you have no gum disease, there will be no bleeding as the dentist flosses the gums. There will be no irritation when a probe is used to measure the internal pockets.

For your part, the response to this reading is to keep doing exactly what you doing. It is obviously working, so keep brushing, flossing, and staying healthy. Before you leave the surgery or clinic, ask your dentist for advice on the best ways to stay gum disease free.

If you are disease free, you may be able to get away with scheduling a professional dental clean once a year. However, it really can be useful to keep up with bi-annual appointments, even if you feel like you don’t need them.

Type I – Gingivitis

This condition and stage of gum disease is extremely common. At present, around 80% of people in the USA suffer with gingivitis. It is characterised by bleeding in response to regular flossing and cleaning. This occurs even when the contact with gums is soft.

Your dentist will know if you have gingivitis, because your gums will bleed during the professional cleaning. There may also be some swelling and inflammation at points where the gum tissue meets the teeth.

As bleeding gums are a clean sign of infection, you will need to improve your brushing and flossing routine. The first step is to buy a new toothbrush, as old brushes can accumulate dirt and make infections worse. Ask your dentist to demonstrate the most effective way to floss.

Type II - Mild Periodontitis

If you are diagnosed with Type II gum disease, it means that you have already had gingivitis for a while. The second stage status occurs when the first is allowed to remain untreated. Your gums will bleed when brushed, flossed, or probed by the dentist.

It is possible that you may have some ligament damage in the places where the tissue joins the teeth, but your dentist will let you know for sure. One of the most serious symptoms of mild periodontitis is receding gums.

The gums recede after healing from infection and inflammation. This condition is permanent and no method has been discovered that can restore the gums to their former glory. So, it is absolutely vital that you take the advice of your dentist very seriously at this point.

It is customary for Type II patients to be given a scale and root planning procedure. This is, essentially, a very deep clean and the type of treatment that can only be given safely by a professional. It cleans right down the length of a teeth, as a way to remove deeply ingrained tartar and plaque.

Types III, IV, and V – Moderate to Serious Periodontitis

The thing to understand about a gum disease diagnosis is that, the further down the scale you fall, the trickier it is to climb back up. While it is not impossible to recover from moderate periodontitis, the chances are significantly lower and very small indeed if you progress past this stage. After a point, your gums will simply stop reacting to treatment.

If you have reached this stage, you will need a number of scale and root planing treatments. Your dentist may refer you to a specialist in the care of gums and gum tissue. This expert is called a periodontist and is the best person to advise late stage patients on their chances of recovery. There will always be a strong emphasis on keeping up with care at home.

You can have all of the planing treatments that you like, but if you disregard the need for careful brushing and flossing at home, the symptoms will return in no time. To prevent advanced tooth loss and nasty infections around the roots of teeth, it is imperative that you watch your diet and clean thoroughly after every meal.

Aftercare Advice for Plaque and Tartar Prevention

Once you have had a professional clean and verified your gum disease status, the next part of the process is entirely down to you. Whether or not you have a gum disease status will determine what steps you need to take next. The best advice is to keep up with flossing and brushing (at least twice a day) and try to eat a vegetable rich diet.

If you do have gum disease, discuss how often you should attend follow up appointments. You will likely be advised to schedule a check-up every three months, but this may get longer if your symptoms start to improve. Your dentist will want to keep a close eye on the sensitivity of your mouth and gums and will perform the same basic tests every time. So, expect to be probed and to have a deep clean and flossing treatment.

If you do not have gum disease, continue to attend check-up appointments every six months. Inform your specialist if you notice any changes to your gum tissue, mouth, or teeth. There are some instances in which changes can occur, but they are related to alterations in diet and lifestyle rather than poor dental health. 

 

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