Dentistry has come a long way over the past few years! No longer are patients awaiting dentures in their senior years! With proper dental care, there is no reason why your teeth can’t last a life time.

Having recently joined the dental team on a full time basis, my attempt is to broaden public awareness in regards to the field of dentistry!

An ideal dental team would include:
a) Dentist
b) Dental Hygienist
c) Chair Side Dental Assistant
d) Receptionist

Prevention of all dental disease is the goal dental teams should be striving for.

It is successful when the dental team works WITH the patient! On a day to day basis, at home, you can prevent dental disease with the choices you make! The dental team is here to answer questions and help you maintain optimum oral health.

There are 2 main aspects of dental care.

1 Teeth and overall oral health
2 Tissues that support the teeth (i.e. gums and jawbone)

The teeth and overall oral health are the main area of focus for a dentist. Pain caused by decay (cavities) is felt earlier; patients seek treatment from a dentist.

Gum disease (periodontal disease) only causes pain in the later, more advanced stages.

So, what is the role of a Dental Hygienist?

Most people’s first response would be “A dental hygienist cleans teeth”.

Upon visiting a dental hygienist an overall medical history will be taken. Often, other medical conditions can affect a person’s dental health such as diabetes, pregnancy or taking certain medications. After reviewing the health history, a hygienist will ask the patient questions to see if the patient has any specific dental concerns. Then comes the assessment of the patient’s gingival (gum) condition.

An instrument called a periodontal probe is used to assess the gums. This “measuring stick” is gently inserted between the gums and the teeth to measure the depth of this space. Dental professionals refer to this as measuring the gum “pockets”. If everything is healthy, the reading is shallow and there is no bleeding.

Unfortunately, this is NOT the case for many patients. Gingivitis (gum disease) is very common and is NOT painful. Often people have it and are not even aware that they have a problem. Bleeding gums is a sign that is often ignored but it is the body’s way of signaling a need for help and attention. It can happen at any age. A person may or may not notice a bad taste or bad breath. But, sometimes, you may not notice anything until the disease has advanced and you are in danger of losing your teeth.

This is where a dental hygienist can help. In the early stages, gum disease can be reversed. Gum disease begins with plaque. Plaque is a clear and sticky film of germs or bacteria that forms on your teeth every day. It also forms in that space where the “pocket readings” were taken. If plaque is not removed every day by brushing and flossing, it hardens into tartar (or calculus). Tartar cannot be removed by brushing and flossing. It must be removed professionally by a dentist or a dental hygienist. If left there, it attracts more bacteria and can lead to an infection at the point where the gums attach to the teeth. In these early stages, gum disease is called gingivitis. Your gums may be a bit red and bleed when you brush, but you will not necessarily have any pain.

If it is not taken care of at this stage, it can progress. “Pockets deepen” and infection forms. Visually, you cannot see it but you may notice puffy gums, traces of blood on your toothbrush or a change in the color of the gums. Even at this stage, the gums will not likely be sore.

Over time, the infection breaks down the gum tissue that attaches to the teeth. It eventually attacks the jaw bone and eventually the teeth become loose and are in danger of being lost.

So, visiting a dental hygienist is more that just cleaning the tartar and stain from the teeth. It is about assessing the gums, removing the deposits, designing an “at home” preventive program to prevent any further disease – both in the way of gum disease and/or tooth decay.

Visit your dentist on a regular basis for a dental check up. He or she might suggest that you visit a dental hygienist for a more comprehensive dental hygiene appointment. Both dentists and hygienists are trained to “scale” teeth (remove tartar). The next time you notice and want to prevent bleeding gums, book a dental appointment and nip the problem in the bud!

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please contact your dentist or dental hygienist.