Dental cleanings involve removing plaque (soft, sticky, bacteria infested film) and tartar (calculus) deposits that have built up on the teeth over time. Your teeth are continually bathed in saliva which contains calcium and other substances which help strengthen and protect the teeth. While this is a good thing, it also means that we tend to get a build-up of calcium deposits on the teeth. This chalky substance will eventually build up over time, like limescale in a pipe or kettle. Usually it is tooth colored and can easily be mistaken as part of the teeth, but it also can vary from brown to black in color.
If the scale, or calculus (tartar, as dentists like to call it) 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 home care.
Our certified dental hygienists use specialized instruments to gently remove these deposits without harming the teeth. The instruments which may be used during your cleaning, and what they feel like, are described below.
The fluoride treatments you receive at the dentist office have more fluoride than over-the-counter fluoride mouthwash or toothpaste. They are used for both children and adults. Dental-office treatments also are different chemically and stay on the teeth longer.
There are two common types of professionally applied fluorides. Acidulated phosphate fluoride (APF) is acidic; neutral sodium fluoride is not. Neutral sodium fluoride usually is used for people who have dry mouth (xerostomia) or who have tooth-colored fillings, crowns or bridges. An acidic fluoride may irritate a mouth that is dry. It also can create small pits in tooth-colored plastic composite fillings.
Fluoride is applied as a gel, foam or varnish during a dental appointment. The teeth are dried so the fluoride doesn’t become diluted. Fluoride gel or foam can be applied by using a tray that looks like a mouth guard for one to four minutes. Fluoride varnish can be painted directly on parts of the teeth that are most likely to get a cavity, to strengthen them. This is an advantage of varnish over gel or foam. Varnish also contains a very strong concentration of fluoride. Topical fluoride comes in a variety of flavors, but it should never be swallowed.
Thorough brushing and flossing helps remove food particles and plaque from the smooth surfaces of teeth, but toothbrushes can’t reach all the way into the depressions and grooves to extract food and plaque. Sealants can help protect these vulnerable areas by “sealing out” plaque and food.
A dental sealant is a plastic material that is usually applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth — premolars and molars. This plastic resin bonds into the depressions and grooves of the chewing surfaces of back teeth and acts as a barrier, protecting enamel from plaque and acids.
In a recent study published in The Journal of the American Dental Association, school-based sealant programs were lauded as an effective public health approach to preventing dental disease.
Even if your child’s school doesn’t have a sealant program, you can still get him/her sealants. Sealants are easy for your dentist to apply, and it takes only a few minutes to seal each tooth.
The teeth that will be sealed are cleaned then the chewing surfaces are roughened with an acid solution to help the sealant adhere to the tooth. The sealant is then painted onto the tooth enamel, where it bonds directly to the tooth and hardens.
As long as the sealant remains intact, the tooth surface will be protected from decay. Sealants hold up well under the force of normal chewing and usually last several years before a reapplication is needed. During your regular dental visits, your dentist will check the condition of the sealants and reapply them when necessary.
Dental radiographs (X-rays) can provide essential information about oral health and are an important part of a patient’s dental record. Dr. Feldhaus now use computers to help capture, store and transmit dental radiographs.
Dental radiographs produced with a special computer create digital images (computerized dental radiographs) that can be displayed and enhanced on the computer monitor.
Digital imaging involves the use of a radiography machine like that used to create dental radiographs made with film. But instead of using film in a plastic holder, the clinician makes digital images using a small electronic sensor that is placed in the mouth to capture the image.
With digital radiographic images, technical errors often can be corrected to provide an optimal radiograph without having to make another exposure. The clinician can use magnification to enhance specific problem areas of a tooth, as well as alter brightness and contrast in the image. Viewing an enhanced dental radiograph on a computer screen can help a dentist better see a problem area.
The dental office also can print or copy digital radiographs. Because the images are stored on the computer, they can be compared easily with future dental radiographs to see if and how conditions have changed.
Digital radiographs eliminate the need for film and film processing chemicals that generate waste. Special light boxes to view the traditional radiographic films also are no longer needed.
Many diseases of the oral cavity (which includes the teeth, surrounding tissues and bone) cannot be seen when the dentist examines a patient’s mouth. A radiographic examination may help the dentist see small areas of decay between the teeth or below existing fillings, bone destruction from a tooth infection, bone loss due to periodontal disease and other problems.