Professional cleaning involves the removal of stains, plaque and tartar that have accumulated on your teeth; tooth scaling to remove plaque below the gum line; and tooth polishing.
Even with careful and regular brushing and flossing of your teeth, tartar may build up, particularly in areas that are difficult for you to reach. It is important you remove this tartar periodically in order to maintain your oral health.
Plaque is a mixture of bacteria, minerals and some food leftovers. Tartar is mineralized plaque, usually tooth coloured and can easily be mistaken as part of the teeth, although it can vary from brown to black in colour. With time plaque hardens to form a build-up of deposits on the teeth. The bacteria make the plaque stick, the minerals make it hard, and the longer the plaque is left on the teeth, the harder it gets. After as little as 24 hours some plaque hardens into tartar which will not come off with brushing or flossing.
The bacterial toxins irritate the gums and cause inflammation, or gingivitis. If this is left untreated it can progress to bone loss and periodontal disease.
Your dental hygienist will use various instruments and devices (ultrasonic cleaner, air jet and diamond polisher) to loosen and remove the plaque deposits from your teeth. This plaque removal is called ‘debridement’. Once all the surfaces are smooth your hygienist will polish your teeth and give them a thorough clean, using either a rotating brush and a prophylaxis paste (a special gritty toothpaste-like material) or a salt jet. Your teeth will then look cleaner and both your teeth and your mouth will feel much cleaner.
Most people find that the cleaning process is painless; you may feel tickling vibrations, the cooling mist of water, and the feeling of pressure during “scraping”, but cleaning generally should not cause discomfort. Sometimes people find scaling uncomfortable because their gum tissues are inflamed, and sometimes the teeth themselves may be sensitive. Topical numbing gels can be used to prevent this discomfort, or you may need a local anaesthetic, which the hygienist is qualified to give if needed.
Most dentists recommend having your teeth professionally cleaned every 6-12 months to reduce the chances of periodontal disease progressing. Your dentist will advise on the recommended interval for your particular needs.
If tartar is allowed to build up around your gums and the roots of your teeth, this can require much more in-depth cleaning which can be more uncomfortable and may require a local anaesthetic, especially if your gums are already sensitive or suffering from gum disease.
We advise many of our patients to have regular visits with the dental hygienist who will help maintain the health of your mouth. The role of the hygienist is to clean around and under the gum line (a scale and polish) to remove plaque and tartar, and perhaps most importantly to help educate you – with the knowledge and skills necessary to maintain a healthy mouth and fresh breath in between appointments.
Hygienists are key members of the Dental team. We know that prevention is better than a cure, and the hygienist plays a very important role in this prevention. Professional plaque removal and excellent home care is crucial to the prevention and treatment of gum (periodontal) disease and the problems it causes, which are caused solely by the build-up of dental plaque.
Plaque itself is soft and will come off with a brush, but is often missed because of imperfect cleaning techniques. The hygienist will help you to address this, discussing any dietary issues which may be contributing to dental decay. In our experience, patients who have previously suffered problems with decay often experience far less when under regular hygienist care. Hygienists are also able to apply fissure sealants (special plastic coatings) to the biting surfaces of teeth to help prevent decay, and also to apply topical fluoride gels to help prevent decay in other areas.
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