You’re a good person – you pay your taxes, pick up litter, and make it to the dentist every 6 months. Now you’re being told you may need a deep cleaning…but don’t you clean your teeth every day? And isn’t a deep cleaning what the dentist always does? Not quite, although we know it can sometimes feel that way.
A regular dental hygiene visit is what you are accustomed to receiving every 6 months. The intention of this visit to the dentist is to remove bacteria deposits that cause decay (caries) and gingivitis (gum inflammation/infection). The bacteria in your mouth cannot be completely removed just by daily tooth brushing and flossing alone. If you are brushing and flossing every day, regular dental hygiene visits address disease-causing bacteria that you (and every other human) can’t totally eliminate. Dental hygiene appointments are the perfect addition to your daily care that will keep your smile happy and healthy.
Deep cleaning/root planing: a necessity?
A deep cleaning, or root planing, on the other hand, becomes necessary when bacteria deposits are damaging the bone and gum around your teeth. Permanent damage to supporting bone and gum is called gum disease, or ‘periodontitis’. To put it in perspective, your gums are supposed to make a tight and healthy seal around your teeth, to protect them and keep them firmly in place. A standard part of your regular hygiene appointment is your doctor using a diagnostic tool called a ‘periodontal probe’ to ensure this is the case. This probe is used to gently measure the depth of the space between your gums and teeth. Typically 1-3mm is considered normal, and there should be very little or no bleeding at all. Probing depths over 4mm is a sign that you are developing ‘pocketing’, a space between the teeth and gums that becomes a prime breeding ground for bacteria and bone damage. Plaque that is not brushed and flossed away and left on the teeth for more than 24 hours can become tartar or calculus, which only your dentist can remove. Left unattended, these pockets can deepen and permanently damage the tooth and the surrounding bone structure. If the dentist uses the probe and measures 4mm or more, and/or there is significant bleeding and signs of inflammation, then a deep cleaning/root planing may be scheduled to help you get your smile back on track.
Deep cleaning/root planing is not a scary process.
Oftentimes, your dentist will break the root planing into two separate visits, to most effectively treat your mouth. This is especially important if your entire mouth needs attention so that you’ll be numbed in only smaller sections of your mouth each time, making for a completely comfortable process and quick recovery. The most common forms of treatment are ‘scaling’ and ‘root planing’. The process of scaling involves using a professional tool to remove plaque and tartar from both the surface of the teeth and the pocket area that has been created between your teeth and gums. A scaling instrument, on the other hand, removes plaque and tartar from the surface of the root of your teeth, which is below the gum line and not visible. These tools are the only thing that can remove built-up plaque, as even floss cannot reach far into deepened pockets. The good news is they do a wonderful job of cleaning up any tartar and bacteria that has built up beneath the visible surface.
Periodontitis is a progressive disease, and left unattended can turn into a much more serious problem. Fortunately, the treatment is typically straightforward. As long as you follow the doctor’s aftercare instructions, the bacteria should be reduced to manageable levels and your gums should return to normal and lose any signs of redness. If you are feeling pain or sensitivity in your teeth, have red and/or puffy gums, or are experiencing bleeding during normal brushing and flossing – call us. The sooner periodontitis is identified, the easier it is to treat and the less expensive it is for you. If you have any concerns about your oral health, just remember that a professional evaluation is never harmful, and may offer you some great information.
762 Independence Blvd., Ste. 500
Virginia Beach, VA 23455 (map)