Routine dental cleanings are important to maintaining good oral hygiene. Professional cleaning by a hygienist can remove mineralized plaque that may develop even with careful brushing and flossing, particularly in areas that are difficult to reach. It is recommended you go in for a cleaning once every six months.
How it’s done
You can expect your dental cleaning to last between 30 minutes and an hour. Typically, a trained hygienist will do the cleaning, and a dentist may come in for an exam at the end. Most people find that dental cleanings are painless, and do not cause any discomfort.
There are three important steps to a dental cleaning. The first step involves measuring the gum tissue around each tooth to determine the overall health of the gums and underlying bone. This allows the hygienist to create a chart that will work as a history of your periodontal health. Measurements of 1-3mm indicate periodontal health, whereas measurements of 4+ will indicate increasing severity of gingivitis and periodontal disease. According to this information, the hygienist will explain whether a routine cleaning will be sufficient to achieve oral health, or if some form of periodontal therapy will be required.
The second step is scaling the teeth, whereby the hygienist will remove the plaque and calculus (tartar) from the tooth surfaces. This can be performed by hand or with ultrasonic scalers depending on the hygienist’s preference and patient needs. This scaling is performed on the tooth structure above the gum line. When plaque and calculus are built up below the gum line, this is indicative of the need for periodontal therapy.
The third step is polishing and flossing to remove any final plaque and buff the teeth. Polishers generally have several different sized heads to clean hard to reach places.
Routine dental exams are important to maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Additionally, they can help to avoid the financial costs associated with large treatment plans later on. The Academy of General Dentistry recommends twice yearly checkups for people of all ages. At this frequency, most problems can be caught while they remain in an early stage.
How it’s done
The dentist first examines your mouth visually, using dental instruments such as mouth mirrors, dental explorers, and high intensity lights. They will look for cracked and decayed teeth, as well as review other important items such as:
- Medical history review: The dentist will assess how any new medical conditions or illnesses may affect your dental health.
- Examination of tooth decay: Your mouth will be checked for cracked or decayed teeth.
- Oral cancer screening: The face, neck, lips, tongue, throat, tissues, and gums will be checked for any signs of oral cancer.
- Gum disease evaluation: Your gums and bone around the teeth will be checked for any evidence of periodontal disease.
- Examination of existing restorations: Current fillings, crowns, and other restorations are made sure to be in good order.
While tooth decay can be seen on most surfaces of the teeth through visual and tactile examination, x-rays allow the dentist to see areas between the teeth and within the bone. In our office, we use digital x-ray technology which allows us to obtain the x-ray images much faster and keep you better protected. Thanks to this digital technology, the radiation doses administered during regular dental visits is negligible. The following types of x-rays are typically taken:
- A Full Mouth Series (FMX) consists of 18 x-rays and is taken during your first visit as a new patient in order to create a baseline understanding of your oral health. This allows the dentist to recognize any issues that may exist in the teeth or underlying bone. These are re-taken every 3-5 years.
- A Checkup Series consists of 7 x-rays and is taken during 6 month appointments to verify that no new signs of tooth decay exist between the teeth since the previous appointment.
- A Panoramic X-ray is a specialized x-ray that spins around your head in order to create one continuous image of the teeth and jaws in order to identify the position of the teeth as they relate to one another. These are typically useful around the age of 8 to verify that all permanent teeth are forming correctly and that spacing is adequate for possible orthodontic referrals. They are also helpful around the age of 17 to check the position of wisdom teeth for possible removal.
- A Cone Beam CT (CBCT) is currently the best x-ray technology in dentistry and is used to create a 3D image of the mouth. These are taken to evaluate the individual canals of a tooth prior to root canal therapy, to plan the placement of dental implants, and to better diagnose areas that traditional 2D x-rays leave inconclusive.