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When is a Cleaning More Than a Cleaning?

If you’ve missed a few professional cleanings or haven’t been brushing at home, you may need more than a “regular cleaning,” costing you more time and money.

Did you know a routine cleaning is clinically called a prophylaxis, or prophy cleaning?  This is because it’s a preventative measure to reduce your risk of developing periodontal disease.  It includes removing plaque and tartar from tooth surfaces and at the gumline.  Your dentist or hygienist uses hand instruments to remove hardened plaque, also called tartar, and then finishes with a polish using a paste that usually contains a fluoridated abrasive scrub.  This paste is much coarser than toothpaste and helps remove stains, leaving you with teeth that are sparkling clean.

If you have missed a few professional visits, the buildup of tarter and plaque may be too much to remove with hand instruments.  In some cases, anesthetic and multiple visits are necessary to get below the gum and remove the tartar, resulting in a more costly dental appointment. 

When a routine cleaning goes from being a preventative measure to a treatment and maintenance measure, this is called a periodontal cleaning, root planning, or a deep scaling.  If the tartar is not removed from below the gumline, inflammation and irritation cause gingivitis. 

Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease.  Symptoms of gingivitis include gums that bleed when they are touched or brushed, tight and swollen gum tissue and bad breath.  A cleaning and more frequent professional hygiene appointments can treat and often reverse this stage of gum disease so long as you follow a regular at-home maintenance routine and commit to a strict professional hygiene schedule. 

If gingivitis is left untreated, however, it can turn into periodontitis.  At this stage, tartar builds up and wedges itself between the gum and tooth root creating a deep pocket.  Once this happens, the periodontal disease becomes a chronic condition.  A more frequent recare schedule and specialized instruments like ultrasonic scalers are necessary to remove the buildup and help the pocket stay clean, so no further damage is done

If this new, stricter routine is not followed advanced periodontal disease resulting in extensive bone and tooth loss can occur.  At this stage, we may recommend one of many procedures to help manage the infection, like laser periodontal treatments, bone grafting, or time-release antibiotics placid in the periodontal pocket itself.  Each of these treatments requires dedication to a stringent homecare routine and multiple professional maintenance appointments each year.

The good news is, gum disease can be prevented with regular professional preventative cleanings and good homecare routine that includes daily flossing and brushing for two minutes at least twice a day.  A little extra time spent on proper home care and regular cleanings now can help save a lot of time and money down the road.