Dental Cleanings and Preventive Dentistry

The technical term for a normal dental cleaning is known as Prophylaxis Dental Cleaning.  The word "prophylaxis" comes from the Greek word "prophylaktikós" which means to guard and protect. A prophylaxis dental cleaning is very routine and an important part of preventative dentistry. Most patients schedule their dental cleaning every six months, although some patients require this treatment more frequently.  In some cases Dr Flewelling will recommend cleanings every 3-4 months; reasons would be discussed during your comprehensive exam.

Conversely, some people go to great lengths to avoid regular dental cleanings. This is usually because they are unsure about the process or have an unpleasant dental care experience. In these cases, it’s important for these patients to understand that dental cleaning by a qualified Hygienist is non-invasive and involves very little discomfort. Typically, no anesthesia is required, and the entire process can be performed relatively quickly, depending on the condition of the patient’s teeth. In addition, a proper dental cleaning includes checking for signs of gum disease or other issues that may be impacting a person’s overall health.

Every dental cleaning at Four Flags Family Dentistry is performed by a licensed dental professional who is specifically trained to minimize any discomfort while removing the build-up of tartar and plaque that’s nearly impossible to address on your own.  Dr Flewelling likes to point out that even the best brushes and flossers miss some things, sometimes.  Those missed areas compound quickly and can cause serious problems for your oral and overall health.

Over the years we have learned that some patients have the misconception that regular dental cleaning can damage their tooth enamel. In reality, tooth enamel erosion is far more likely to occur over time from consuming a diet high in sugars, starches and acidic foods. Other potential causes of tooth erosion include medical conditions like acid reflux or behavioral habits, such as tooth grinding. It's important to understand that regularly scheduled dental cleanings are part of an oral care routine that will help to maintain your oral health (and overall health) for a lifetime. 

A professional dental cleaning goes far beyond regular brushing and flossing. By maintaining a regular routine of professional cleaning, you can prevent dental issues that can cause pain and discomfort or chronic bad breath. Regular cleaning also helps you avoid or allow for early detection of cavities that damage your teeth.  If allowed to progress, unchecked, these problems can lead to gum infections that can damage the soft tissue and even destroy the bones that support your teeth.  

With regular visits, we'll work with you to ensure you have a clean, healthy smile that comes from regular care of your teeth at home and in our office.  

What To Expect in a Regular Prophylaxis Dental Cleaning

During this cleaning the focus is on eliminating tartar both above and below the gumline. Some signs you may need a professional dental cleaning include bleeding gums when brushing or flossing, red or swollen gums, bad breath that will not go away even after brushing, or in the worst case, gums that are beginning to pull away from the teeth.

During your first prophylaxis dental cleaning you can anticipate having a series of dental x-rays. Typically x-rays are only required once-a-year, at every other visit, to evaluate for cavities between the teeth and bone levels supporting the teeth. Your hygienist will take your blood pressure, and proceed with an examination of your gum tissue, and oral cavity. 

When your cleaning begins, your hygienist will use a small tool called a scaler to remove any plaque and tartar that has accumulated on the surface of the teeth, near the gum line or between your teeth. Depending on the amount tarter and plaque present, a manual or ultrasonic scaler can be used. A manual scaler is used to scrape and dislodge tarter on your teeth, while the ultrasonic scaler uses a gentle vibration and pressurized water to remove more extensive deposits of tarter or plaque buildup.

Once this portion of your cleaning is completed, your hygienist will polish your teeth and remove any stains using a rotary dental tool with a rubber prophy cup to apply a gritty toothpaste called prophylaxis paste. The rubber prophy cup is used to create a soft grinding motion to remove stains and brighten your teeth. The process is then completed by the hygienist removing any remaining paste between the teeth with dental floss. Your hygienist will then alert Dr. Flewelling to any areas of concern for further examination before your appointment wraps up.

In almost all cases, you will experience little if any discomfort when getting your teeth cleaned.

However, there are factors that can cause mild discomfort due to increased oral sensitivity because of inflammation, gum disease or tooth decay. In very rare cases, there may be discomfort in the jaw due to temporomandibular disorders. We encourage our patients to communicate any discomfort felt during a cleaning to the hygienist who can use a different cleaning method or a topical anesthetic to reduce discomfort.

Deep Dental Cleaning

For those suffering from the effects of more advanced gum disease, Dr. Flewelling may recommend a deeper form of dental cleaning.  These types of cleanings are called Scaling and Root Planing.  

This type of cleaning differs from a normal prophylaxis cleaning in that the cleaning includes increased attention to the part of the tooth directly below the gum line. While not always needed, Dr. Flewelling may elect to use a local anesthetic to mitigate any possible discomfort.  Typically these treatments are performed over two separate visits, to address the whole mouth, and require a series of “follow-up” appointments, over the next year, to help maintain and assess success of the treatment.

Gross Debridement Dental Cleaning

The American Dental Association describes a full mouth debridement as the “gross removal of plaque and calculus that interfere with the ability of the dentist to perform a comprehensive oral evaluation".  

This is a situation when the teeth are covered in plaque and tarter deposits to the extent that Dr. Flewelling is unable to clearly identify signs of decay or gum disease for treatment. Gum disease (periodontitis) is a potentially serious infection. When periodontitis is not addressed, it will eventually lead to the loosening of the teeth and in some cases, even tooth loss. Following gross debridement dental cleaning, Dr. Flewelling will be able to accurately assess your periodontal health as well as assess for any cavities that may have been covered up and inaccessible to his instruments. In some cases, once a debridement cleaning is completed the patient can return to a regular schedule of dental cleaning.

The secret to maintaining a healthy smile begins with regular brushing and flossing, along with a regular schedule of professional dental cleaning. 

If you have questions or would like to schedule your next dental cleaning, just give us a call!