October is National Dental Hygiene Month, and we plan to be busy performing professional dental cleanings throughout the month!
Professional dental cleanings can take several forms. For most children and for adults that don't have periodontal (gum) disease, the cleaning is called a prophylaxis and is considered a preventive procedure--basically we're trying to remove the plaque, calculus/tartar and other irritants that cause dental cavities or gum disease. For those who have periodontal (gum) disease, we're doing treatments to control the disease. Remember, gum disease can't be cured but it can be managed or controlled. If you've recently been diagnosed with gum disease, you'll probably be having scaling and root planing (sometimes called "deep cleanings") or surgical periodontal treatments. If you're in the managing stage of gum disease you'll be having Periodontal Maintenance Cleanings (which are basically a form of a full mouth deep cleaning to maintain the progress that was made with the initial treatment).
The cleaning types may all seem similar to you when you're in the dental chair, but we're trying to accomplish different things. With a Prophylaxis, we are mostly staying above and right around the gum level while we are removing deposits on the teeth. With Scaling and Root Planing, we are focusing on specific sections of your mouth and going as far below the gum level as we need to to remove deposits on your teeth and roots. (Of course, we're also removing deposits above your gumline during this procedure also!) Periodontal Maintenance is similar to the Scaling and Root Planing except that we usually do your whole mouth at the visit instead of focusing on specific areas.
Professional cleanings are an important part of your dental hygiene, but what you do at home also contributes--and it's likely that the better your home care is, the less likely it will be that you will need to have periodontal treatment. The goal of dental home care is to remove (or at least move around) the soft plaque that forms on your teeth. Plaque is a combination of food, saliva, and oral bacteria. If plaque is left on your teeth, it will harden or mineralize--we call this tartar or calculus. Once tartar or calculus has cemented itself to your tooth or teeth, you are not able to remove it yourself--this is where you need the assistance of your dentist or dental hygienist!
So how do you remove plaque (before it hardens)? Toothbrushing and flossing are the two main ways.
Use a soft or extra soft toothbrush. These are still firm enough to remove plaque. The soft or extra soft bristles are less likely to injure your gums and flexible enough that they sometimes reach into areas where medium or hard bristle ones do not. You should brush at least twice a day for 2 minutes each time. (Some sources recommend 4 minutes if using a regular toothbrush and 2 minutes if using an electric toothbrush.) If you aren't sure of the correct method for brushing your teeth, ask your dental professional or check out How To Brush. Change your toothbrush every 3-4 months or sooner if the bristles start to splay out.
Electric toothbrushes do seem to provide better cleaning for a majority of people. Electric toothbrushes fall into two main types: rotary (spin) and vibrational (sonic/ultrasonic). Just like with other brushes, you should change the brush head of your electric toothbrush from time to time.
Floss comes in many types: flavored, unflavored, waxed, unwaxed, easy slide formulas, string, preloaded. It doesn't really matter which type you use so pick one that you prefer. (For easy slide versions, you may want to run it over the tooth a few more times as some experts worry the easy slide coating that makes it easier to get between your teeth also slides more easily over plaque.) If you're not sure how to floss correctly ask your dental professional or check out How To Floss.
Brushing and flossing are the two main ways to clean your teeth, but in certain situations other oral care items might be needed:
Waterpiks and other oral irrigators, which use a water stream to try to disrupt plaque, can be helpful for hard to clean areas. They're often recommended for people with dental implants or braces. They're not really meant to replace flossing. Flossing still remains the standard for cleaning in between the teeth; however, some studies have shown that for those who don't or can't floss, using an oral irrigator does improve the oral hygiene.
If you have periodontal disease, you may have wider areas between your teeth that are harder to clean completely with floss alone. In those cases, your dentist might advise you to use a Proxybrush or Interdental Brush in those areas. Basically it is a small brush that can be gently inserted between the teeth--you should never force it into an area! End Tuft bruses are similar but a little larger. Stimudents are wooden triangular shaped picks that can be run around the gumline and in between the teeth. Rubber tips can be used to massage irritated gums. Learn more at Interdental Cleaning Devices.
So even if you're not due to see your dentist in October or can't get in in October due to the high demand, you can still be working toward your best dental hygiene!
*Note: The information in this article is not meant to replace the clinical judgement of your dental and healthcare professionals.
Jennifer G. Robb, DMD is a general dentist. She's practiced in Lorain, OH for 21 years and is taking new patients.
1320 Cooper Foster Park Rd. W
Lorain, OH 44053