I smile when I hear this comment. Let me set the stage for you:
Patient has booked an appointment to “get their teeth cleaned.” When booking the appointment there is sometimes a certain amount of skepticism when our receptionist informs them that they will likely be at our office for an hour.
Patient: “An hour? But it is just a cleaning.”
Receptionist: “Yes. Our Dental Hygienist will likely need that amount of time.”
Patient: “Are you sure? I don’t need to see the dentist this time. It is just a cleaning.”
Receptionist: “Yes. Your appointment is at 9 am. We will see you then.”
Day of Appointment
Patient shows up for the appointment. After registering with the receptionist, the patient is greeted by the enthusiastic Dental Hygienist and is seated in the dental hygiene room (“wellness room”). The Dental Hygienist will proceed to ask about a zillion medical questions.
Patient is thinking: “I am just here for a cleaning. Why does she need to know all of that information?”
Dental Hygienist: “There are many medical conditions that affect ones’ dental health and ones’ dental health can also affect other medical conditions. It is not just teeth and gums we are treating but a WHOLE person!”
Next she proceeds to query your daily dental routine.
Patient thinks: “I am beginning to see that she is more concerned about my dental health and wellness than I am. She means well but here comes that dreaded question…”
Dental Hygienist: “Do you floss?”
Patient thinks: “So…should I tell the truth or should I lie? And if I stretch the truth…she will likely say ‘Hmmmmmmm – it doesn’t look like you have been flossing’.”
Patient thinks: “Well, I have been thinking about it. Doesn’t that count?”
We all know that there is the mistaken thought that one can brush and floss off the last six months worth of “plaque” the night before one’s dental appointment! Right??
All joking aside now. A dental hygiene appointment is more than an esthetic procedure. Yes, the stain is polished off the crowns of the teeth but that is the last part of the appointment. Removing what the patient can see must be complimented by removing deposits below the gum line as well.
The dental team will do an assessment of your gums for gum disease. This involves measuring the space between the gums and the teeth. (You know the spot where popcorn shells get stuck). They will also check for bleeding spots. 7 out of 10 people have some stage of gum disease and are likely not aware of it as it does not hurt. Most people might have noticed that their gums bleed but often tell themselves “Oh, I just brushed a bit too hard – or – Well, I rinsed and it stopped. No big deal.”
Yes, it is a big deal – spontaneous bleeding from any part of our body is a warning sign that something needs attention. A thorough professional “cleaning” will help ensure that the supporting structures are healthy and that the teeth are not lost!
After the initial assessment a treatment plan will be discussed. Sometimes, it may take more than one visit to get ones’ teeth “just cleaned.”
During a “cleaning” appointment, a screening examination of the gum tissue will take place. Depending on the findings, the following treatment plans may be indicated:
1 Visit – Dental Hygiene Appointment – Minimal professional cleaning required. Ultrasonic tools and/or hand held instruments are used. Polishing (as required) to removed plaque and stain. Topical fluoride may be applied to prevent cavities and to remineralize and desensitize the teeth.
This would be considered a “wellness” visit or a “maintenance” appointment. Gum tissues are healthy and there is a minimal amount of stain and tartar deposits above and below the gum line area. The gums are relatively healthy with minimal bleeding during the assessment. X-rays may or may not be required. Personalized oral hygiene instructions will be provided at this time.
2 Visit – Dental Hygiene Appointments: During the assessment and evaluation portion of the initial screening, slight to moderate amounts of tartar and stain are present. The dental team may suggest 2 separate dental hygiene appointments. Gum infection is present and there is bleeding during evaluation.
Sometimes local anesthetic (“freezing”) may be required depending on patient comfort level. X-rays will likely be required if current ones are not available. This will confirm diagnosis and extent of periodontal/gum disease. Ultrasonic tools and/or hand held instruments are used. Often the 2 sessions are set up with 7 – 10 days between appointments. This allows the soft tissue (gums) to respond to the treatment. 2nd appointments often are more comfortable and gum tissue is healthier. Personalized oral hygiene instruction will be provided. Polishing (as required) to remove plaque and stain may be performed. Topical fluoride may be applied to prevent cavities and to remineralize and desensitize the teeth.
3-4 Visit – Dental Hygiene Appointments: During assessment and evaluation portion of the initial screening, moderate to heavy deposits of tartar and/or stain are present; the dental team may suggest 3 – 4 separate dental hygiene appointments. Gum infection is present and there is bleeding during evaluation. Local anesthetic (“freezing”) is likely indicated as often the periodontal/gum disease is quite advanced and deposits are deep. X-rays are required to confirm diagnosis of periodontal disease. Ultrasonic tools and/or hand held instruments are used. Personalized oral hygiene instruction will be provided. Polishing (as required) to removed plaque and stain may be performed. Topical fluoride may be applied to prevent cavities and to remineralize and desensitize the teeth.
Maintenance Intervals – Soft Tissue Management – Wellness Appointments
After the initial series of dental hygiene appointments, your health care provider will recommend a “recall” interval. Based on your specific needs, that may be in 3 months, 4 months or every 6 months. Several factors are taken into consideration and it will be re-evaluated on an ongoing basis as per each patient’s individual needs.
Our goal is to work with our patients to attain and maintain optimal dental health. We are here to help.