Part of preventive dentistry, routine dental exams and dental cleanings are the building blocks of long-term oral health. A dental cleaning helps keep teeth and gums in optimal condition by preventing the accumulation of plaque and tartar, which left untreated, can lead to tooth decay, gum disease and potentially even tooth loss.
Rather than waiting for problems to arise, preventive dentistry uses routine exams, dental cleanings, digital X-rays and other treatments, as well as patient education, to keep issues at bay.
What are plaque and tartar?
Plaque is an accumulation of bacteria, food and by-products from the bacteria on the teeth and gums. This accumulation leads to the formation of cavities and gingival inflammation that leads to problems such as tenderness, swelling and bleeding.
Tartar, on the other hand, is plaque that has hardened onto the enamel of the teeth and under the gum line from minerals in your saliva. Accumulation of tartar leads to gingival inflammation, gingival recession and eventual bone loss around the teeth.
A regular dental cleaning removes both plaque and tartar from the teeth.
What is a dental exam?
During a dental exam, a dentist will examine your oral environment. This includes teeth and their roots, the surrounding gingiva and bones, your bite and how you chew as well as the general appearance of your teeth looking for stains, chips, gaps, crowding and any potential issues. Muscles, lymph nodes and tongue will be checked for inflammation or abnormalities. Your dentist and hygienist will also screen for signs of oral cancer.
If you’re nervous about visiting a dentist for the first time or experience dental anxiety, tell your dentist how you feel and what your concerns are (fear of the unknown, a previous bad experience, sensitive teeth, pain, etc.) so they can help put you at ease.
What happens during a first visit to the dentist?
In addition to a complete examination of your teeth, gums and jaw, the dentist may also take an X-ray to look for problems beneath the surface of your teeth and gums, all the way to the bones. A dental cleaning may also be scheduled.
What are the steps of a regular dental cleaning?
To start, the hygienist will use special tools designed to remove the plaque and tartar that have accumulated, and hardened, onto your teeth and gums. This step is called scaling or root planing.
Secondly, a power polisher will be used to clean and polish the surface of your teeth, removing any temporary stains caused by eating, drinking and smoking. With extensive staining, an air abrasion unit may be required to remove them.
Third, you’ll be treated to professional flossing, both to remove any leftover debris and to help teach you the proper way to floss at home.
The dentist may recommend a fluoride treatment, depending on the patient’s age or with increased risk to dental decay from the condition of their teeth, and X-rays to show the roots of their teeth and bone to detect any issues hiding under the gums, to diagnose for decay (cavities), assess impacted teeth and to assess for any bone pathologies.
Why is it important to go for routine dental cleanings?
A regularly scheduled dental cleaning can make the difference between a healthy, white smile and one that needs a lot of work. In addition to keeping teeth and gums in optimal condition, routine dental cleanings also help keep teeth free of plaque, tartar and temporary surface stains.
Oral health is very strongly linked with total body health; periodontal disease is linked to heart disease, gum disease can lead to premature births and gastric (stomach) issues are often first diagnosed though the mouth.
How much does a dental cleaning cost?
Exams and dental cleanings are routine procedures, so they cost a lot less than the treatments and/or procedures that might need to be done in their place if proper dental health isn’t maintained.
Variables that could end up having an effect on the price of a dental cleaning include the patient’s overall dental health, if they require sedation (due to dental anxiety or sensitive teeth) and if additional procedures/treatments are required, such as fluoride and/or X-rays.