Cleans teeth... ha ha yes “cleans teeth” is the short answer!
Primarily, a dental hygienist removes deposits from teeth, examines teeth and gums for disease or abnormality and takes steps to eliminate tartar, stains and plaque from teeth. In some cases, a dental hygienist can perform planning of roots, take xrays and administer agents such as cavity preventing fluoride.
What are dental cleanings (scale & polish) and why have them?
Dental cleanings involve removing plaque (soft, sticky, bacteria infested film) and tartar (calculus) deposits that have built up on teeth over time. Your teeth are continually bathed in saliva which contains calcium and other substances which strengthen and protect teeth. While this is a good thing, it also means we tend to get a build up of calcium deposits on the teeth. This chalky substance will eventually build up over time, like lime scale in a pipe or kettle. Usually it is tooth coloured and can easily be mistaken as part of the teeth, but it can also vary from brown to black in colour.
If the scale or tartar is allowed to accumulate on the teeth it will unfortunately provide the right conditions for bacteria to thrive next to the gums. The purpose of the cleaning and polishing is basically to leave the surfaces of the teeth clean and smooth so that bacteria are unable to stick to them and you have a better chance of keeping the teeth clean during your regular homecare.
The professional cleaning of teeth is sometimes referred to as prophylaxis (or prophy) for short. It’s a Greek word which means “to prevent beforehand” – in this case, it helps prevent gum disease and tooth decay.
How are dental cleanings done?
Probing & Charting – A gentle baseline probing chart is done first to check and measure the gum tissue attachment around the tooth. Also to check and measure any receding gums (which is when the root becomes exposed, commonly known as recession). This lets the Hygienist know the overall health of your gums. This is checked at each recall appointment and changes noted, then fully updated every 2 years. Ultrasonic Instrument – Commonly used is an ultrasonic instrument which uses vibrations to knock off the larger pieces of tartar while spraying out a cooling mist of water which washes away the debris and also keeps the area at a proper temperature, which typically emits a humming or high pitched whistling sound. Fine hand tools – Once the larger pieces of tartar are gone, the hygienist will switch to finer hand tools. These instruments remove the smaller deposits and smoothen the tooth surfaces. These tools are curved and shaped to match the tooth surface. Gentle to moderate and careful scaling is preformed. Polishing – Once all the surfaces are smooth, the hygienist will polish the teeth. Polishing is done using a soft rubber cup that spins on the end. Prophylaxis (short for prophy) paste is a special gritty toothpaste to make them shiny smooth! Fluoride Application – The fluoride rinse is the final part of the treatment. Fluoride helps to strengthen the teeth since the tartar & plaque will have weakened the surfaces. It is best not to eat, drink or rinse for 30 minutes are the application.
For the safety of our Patients and our entire dental team we carry out infection control and sterilization procedures that meet the standards set up by the New Zealand Dental Association.
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Fraser Smith Lowe Dentists
267 Pakuranga Road