Can’t the Dentist Just CLEAN My Teeth?

Hygienists typically have three main categories of patients. The first group consists of patients who have relatively healthy teeth and gums, and who are typically seen two or three times a year for “regular cleaning appointments.” The second group consists of patients who have gingivitis, or inflamed and infected gum tissues that require “deep cleanings” at least three times per year. The third group consists of patients who have periodontal disease, an advanced infection requiring at least four “deep cleanings” each year. Many patients who have periodontal disease alternate between the hygienist at their regular dentist’s office and the hygienist at their periodont’s office for their appointments.

During a “regular” appointment, your hygienist will perform what insurance companies like to call an “oral prophylaxis.” First is the “cleaning” part of the appointment, during which plaque biofilm (that white sticky stuff) and extrinsic stain are removed from your teeth above the gumline by both hand and ultrasonic scaling. Next is the “polishing” part, which is when the hygienist uses a polishing cup and paste to leave your teeth with that feeling smooth and looking lustrous.

It is important to note that both parts of the “oral prophylaxis” appointment are done strictly above the gumline. This is important because patients who have gingivitis or periodontitis need the tooth surfaces that are below their gumline to be cleaned as well. Most hygienists like the analogy of cleaning a boat. Under normal circumstances, you can just wipe down the visible exterior of the boat. After sitting for a while, however, the barnacles need to be scraped off below the surface of the water. During these appointments, called “scaling and root planing,” most patients require anesthesia for the hygienist to be most effective.

While you may think that all “cleaning” appointments are the same, the reality is quietly hiding below the surface for your hygienist to find!


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