Regular Cleanings Are Vital To A Healthy Smile
During a dental exam, the dentist or hygienist will:
- Evaluate your overall health and oral hygiene
- Evaluate your risk of tooth decay, root decay, and gum or bone disease
- Evaluate your need for tooth restoration or tooth replacement
- Check your bite and jaw for problems
- Remove any stains or deposits on your teeth
- Demonstrate proper cleaning techniques for your teeth or dentures
- Assess your need for fluoride
- Take dental X-rays or, if necessary, do other diagnostic procedures
During a dental exam, your dentist or hygienist will also ask about any health problems you have or medications you’re taking and discuss how they might affect your oral health. If you have diabetes, for example, you’re at increased risk of gum disease. Any medication that contributes to dry mouth can increase your risk of tooth decay. If arthritis interferes with your ability to effectively brush your teeth, your dentist or hygienist might show you how to insert the handle of your toothbrush into a rubber ball for easier use — or recommend a powered or electric toothbrush.
If you have prosthetic replacements — such as dentures or bridges — your dentist or hygienist will examine how well they fit and discuss the need for adjustments.
Dental exams might also include counseling about diet, use of tobacco products and other lifestyle factors that can affect oral health.
The Dental Cleaning Process
Step 1: A Physical Exam
Most teeth cleanings are performed by a dental hygienist. Before the actual cleaning process begins, they start with a physical exam of your entire mouth. The dental hygienist uses a small mirror to check around your teeth and gums for any signs of gingivitis (inflamed gums) or other potential concerns. If major problems are detected, they might call the dentist to make sure it’s okay to proceed.
Step 2: Removing Plaque and Tartar
With the small mirror to guide them, the dental hygienist uses a scaler to get rid of plaque and tartar around the gum line, as well as in between the teeth. You’ll hear scraping, but this is normal! The more tartar there is in your mouth, the more time is needed to scrape a particular spot. We brush and floss to stop plaque from building up and hardening into tartar. Once you have tartar, you can only remove it at the dentist’s office. So if this is your least favorite part of the teeth cleaning process, the lesson is to brush and floss more often!
Step 3: Gritty Toothpaste Cleaning
After your teeth are completely tartar-free, the hygienist brushes them with a high-powered electric brush. They make that infamous grinding noise. While it sounds scary, it’s a great way to get a deep clean and remove any tartar left behind from the scaler. Professional cleanings use toothpaste that smells and tastes like regular toothpaste, though you can often choose between flavors. However, it has a gritty consistency that gently scrubs your teeth. This occasional polishing of the teeth is deemed safe at the dentist’s office twice a year. But don’t be so harsh with your teeth at home, as you’ll wear down the enamel.
Step 4: Expert Flossing
Whether you floss regularly at home or not, nothing beats an expert flossing session! Your dental hygienist can get deep in between your teeth and locate any potential trouble spots where you might bleed at the gums. This might seem pointless if you floss at home, but having a professional floss your teeth also removes any leftover plaque or toothpaste from steps two and three.
Step 5: Rinse!
Next, you rinse out your mouth to get rid of any debris. Your dental hygienist will usually use a rinse that contains liquid fluoride.
Other Potential Steps
Professional teeth cleanings are scheduled twice a year, while X-rays are normally done once a year. Still, depending on what your dentist or dental hygienist observes in your mouth, they might do other exams during your visit. For children, a dentist may recommend molar sealants to help prevent cavities in hard-to-brush areas.
Whether you need any additional steps or not, the key is to keep going back to the dentist for regular teeth cleanings to prevent problems altogether. By understanding what’s going on in advance, you’ll feel more at ease — and maybe even look forward to these important appointments!
Dental X-rays (radiographs) are images of your teeth that your dentist uses to evaluate your oral health. These X-rays are used with low levels of radiation to capture images of the interior of your teeth and gums. This can help your dentist to identify problems, like cavities, tooth decay, and impacted teeth. Dental X-rays may seem complex, but they’re actually very common tools that are just as important as your teeth cleanings. Like brushing and flossing, regular dental X-rays are an integral part of your overall oral health. Having a good checkup can be a relief, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep getting X-rays. Depending on your age, health, and insurance coverage, X-rays may be performed every one to two years. Be sure to commit to your appointments and see your dentist sooner if you experience any pain or other changes in your mouth.
Why Dental X-Rays Are Performed
Dental X-rays are typically performed yearly, or more often if your dentist is tracking the progress of a dental problem or treatment.
Factors affecting how often you get dental X-rays may include:
- Your age
- Your current oral health
- Any symptoms of oral disease
- A history of gum disease (gingivitis) or tooth decay
If you’re a new patient, you will probably undergo dental X-rays so that your new dentist can get a clear picture of your dental health. This is especially important if you don’t have any X-rays from your previous dentist.
Children may need to have dental X-rays more often than adults because their dentists might need to monitor the growth of their adult teeth. This is important because it can help the dentist determine if baby teeth need to be pulled to prevent complications, such as adult teeth growing in behind baby teeth.
Risks of Dental X-Rays
While dental X-rays do involve radiation, the exposed levels are so low they’re considered safe for children and adults. If your dentist uses digital X-rays instead of developing them on film, your risks from radiation exposure are even lower. Your dentist will also place a lead “bib” over your chest, abdomen, and pelvic region to prevent any unnecessary radiation exposure to your vital organs. A thyroid collar may be used in the case of thyroid conditions. Children and women of childbearing age may also wear them along with the lead bib.
Pregnancy is an exception to the rule. Women who are pregnant or believe they may be pregnant should avoid all types of X-rays. Tell your dentist if you believe you are pregnant, because radiation is not considered safe for developing fetuses.
Preparing for Dental X-Rays
Dental X-rays require no special preparation. The only thing you’ll want to do is brush your teeth before your dentist appointment. That will create a more hygienic environment for those working inside your mouth. X-rays are always done before cleanings.
At the dentist’s office you’ll sit in a chair with a lead vest across your chest and lap. The X-ray machine is positioned alongside your head to record images of your mouth. Some dental practices have a separate room for X-rays, while others perform them in the same room as cleanings and other procedures.
Types of X-Rays
This technique involves biting down on a special piece of paper so your dentist can see how well the crowns of your teeth match up. This is commonly used to check for interdental cavities.
This X-ray is done when your jaw is closed to see how your upper and bottom teeth line up, and can also detect anatomical abnormalities with the floor of the mouth or the palate.
This technique captures all of your teeth in one shot.
For this type of X-ray, the machine rotates around the head. Your dentist may use this technique to check your wisdom teeth, plan for implanted dental devices, or investigate jaw problems.
This technique focuses on two complete teeth from root to crown.
After Dental X-Rays
When the images are ready — instantly in the case of digital X-rays — your dentist will review them and check for abnormalities. If a dental hygienist is cleaning your teeth, the dentist may go over the results of the X-rays with you after your cleaning is done. The exception is if the hygienist discovers any significant problems during the X-rays.
If your dentist finds problems, such as cavities or tooth decay, they’ll discuss your treatment options. If your dentist finds no problems, keep up the good work!