In this article, you will learn the process of having your teeth cleaned by a dental professional and give you five warning signs that you need to make an appointment to see your dentist.
Sign #1: Your Gums Look Swollen
Gums are supposed to be pink and tightly bound to the tissue. Healthy gums don’t bleed when you brush them. Sometimes gums can bleed for a variety of reasons: hormones, medication, and trauma from chewing food that can lacerate the tissue. A good rule of thumb is that the occasional bleeding from something that you can pinpoint the cause, is not a problem. However, chronic, repeated bleeding requires a visit to your dentist to get it checked out.
Swollen gums look puffy, tender, sore to the touch, and just generally make your mouth feel achy. There are a variety of reasons for this, some of which can be plaque or calculus on the gum line that makes it challenging to get in there and clean. It’s a chronic irritation of that tissue and it stays swollen and achy.
There are many other reasons as well, such as an abscess of a tooth, a failing restoration, or something systemic. Regardless of the cause, swollen gums are something that needs to be checked out.
Sign #2: Your Gums Bleed With Even Light Contact
If your teeth bleed only rarely from something you can pinpoint, it’s probably something you don’t need to check out immediately but keep it in mind for your next hygiene visit. However, if you notice it’s a common occurrence, as in every time you brush or every other time you brush, or even if the majority of your mouth is okay but there’s one area that’s chronically tender and bleeding, you need to have it checked out.
The most common cause of this bleeding is inflammation caused by plaque or calculus. Many times, home care may not be enough to get to calculus below the gum line. We have the tools and materials needed to get underneath the gum tissue and clean everything up to help the tissue become healthy again. Other factors, like medications or pregnancy, can cause the gum tissue to be hypersensitive, swollen, and prone to bleeding. These are all things that if we know about, we can address and help you maintain a healthy mouth.
Sign #3: Your Breath Starts to Drive People Away
Bad breath or halitosis is a result of bacteria that have been left behind in your mouth that produce odor as they feed off food particles. These food particles can be stuck in little nooks and crannies between your teeth, the grooves, your tongue, or even in the folds of your cheek. That’s why very thorough home care is important, to rinse all the food and bacteria out, and give your mouth a chance to be healthy.
One key point to remember is to always brush your tongue, especially the back part of your tongue. A lot of people don’t realize the deep grooves back there allow food particles to accumulate. And even though your teeth are nice and clean, if your tongue has bacteria, you’re going to have bad breath issues.
There are plenty of oral hygiene tools that we can help show you how to use, from flossers, water picks, rinses, and electric toothbrushes. There are lots of ways to get the bacteria and the food particles out of your mouth so that your mouth can be clean and healthy and your breath can smell fresher.
Sign #4: Cold Things Begin to Feel Unpleasant
Occasional tooth sensitivity is normal. The mouth is a very weird place. Sometimes eating causes sensitivity, but as long as it is sporadic and occasional, it’s generally not a concern. It’s just the mouth being the mouth. However, if you have a tooth or an area in your mouth that is chronically sensitive to cold to the point where you are actually changing your diet or changing where in your mouth you’re chewing, that’s something we need to check out.
The Majority of Cold Sensitivity is Actually Caused by Gingival Recession
As we age, our bone kind of remodels and the tissue tends to shrink. When the tissue shrinks below the gum line, more and more of the neck of the tooth is exposed. That part of the tooth structure is not as durable. Cold foods, drinks, and ice all of the sudden have a quicker pathway to the nerve. Fortunately, this is a very common problem and something we treat every day in our practice.
The easiest and most direct way to treat this problem is prescription toothpaste. What makes these pastes different is they are highly fluoridated, and that allows the tooth to absorb more fluoride which rebuilds a protective layer over the nerve. It’s not an instant fix, but over time as that protective layer builds up, you will feel the sensitivity decrease.
Fluoride Treatment for Sensitive Teeth
The other option we have for sensitive teeth is an in-office fluoride treatment. We have many patients that have this treatment after their dental cleaning. A fluoride varnish is put on the teeth by their hygienist. What this does is twofold. Number one, it holds the fluoride to the tooth so the tooth can absorb it over a longer period of time. It also creates a protective physical barrier so those sensitive areas don’t get zinged until the tooth has a chance to re-mineralize. Cold sensitivity is a great motivator to schedule a dental appointment.
Sign #5: Your Pearly Whites Aren’t so White and Pearly Anymore
The oral environment is a rough environment. It’s very harsh on your natural teeth and any dental restorative materials we use. Normal diet and wear and tear are going to cause breakdown and staining over time. Often a good professional cleaning done by one of our hygienists can do a really good job removing the debris and stain that you can’t quite get at home, even if you’ve got great home care. If the discoloration is more than just minor buildup and staining, we can discuss teeth whitening options to restore your teeth to that natural white color.
The Majority of Our Patients Need a Dental Cleaning Every Six Months
We recommend dental cleaning every six months to the majority of our patients. However, we have a subset of patients that have a history of periodontal disease that requires a more in-depth cleaning. We call this type of cleaning scaling and root planing.
Scaling and Root Planing
Oftentimes we have patients that come to us from another office that say they need deep cleaning and they have questions about what that is and why they need it. Deep cleaning is also known as scaling and root planing, and these patients have deeper pockets and periodontal disease.
The majority of our patients don’t need scaling and root planing as long as they have good home care and they don’t have a history of periodontal disease, which is basically bone loss. If you have bone loss, you will have deeper pockets that make it more challenging to clean. These are the patients that need scaling and root planing on a routine basis. The combination of good home care and regular appointments with our hygienists can maintain gingival health.
Professional cleaning is your regularly scheduled six-month checkup appointment. At that appointment, the hygienist will clean your teeth, go over home care, and go over your medical history. We’ll also do a very thorough examination of your soft tissues, your existing restorations, your natural teeth, an oral cancer screening, and we’ll also answer any questions or concerns you have about your mouth. We need to make sure the oral cavity is healthy. Periodically, we will take X-rays to make sure there’s nothing going on below the gum tissue or in areas we can’t see with our own eyes. We can also clean your appliances and make sure they don’t have cracks, minor defects, or breakdowns. The last thing you want to do is have a major problem that could have been prevented if you came in and let us check on it.
So who needs professional cleaning? Actually, everyone needs professional cleaning. I like to tell my patients that from the time their teeth start coming in, every six months all the way until they’re 100, even if they have dentures, they still need to come in for cleanings and X-rays.
I like to compare cleaning appointments to getting your oil changed. It’s something you need to do on a regular maintenance schedule to make sure nothing sneaks up on you and creates a bigger issue. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, which could not apply more, than in dentistry.