Justin Sycamore is a Thousand Oaks dentist. He is a graduate of USC Dental School and completed a general practice residency at Bronx Lebanon Hospital in New York City. His Thousand Oaks based practice was started in 2015. In this article Dr. Sycamore discusses the importance of regular cleanings.
Dental cleanings are maybe the most important things that we do at dental visits. Dentistry is not perfect. Some criticism is that we do too much to correct problems and not enough to prevent them. I think this is a valid criticism. There have been advances in vaccines and probiotics, but 90% of what we do as dentists is to correct problems that have already occurred.
Dental cleanings, however, are to prevent periodontal problems. Dentists call cleanings “prophys”. Which is an abbreviation of the word prophylaxis. That is a latin term which means a protective treatment for disease. The disease we want to prevent is periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease is a result of the buildup of plaque and tartar. Dentists call tartar “calculus”. Calculus accumulates around the gums and between teeth. It becomes hard and sticks to the teeth like glue. It is full of bacteria and it irritates the gums like nothing else. The irritation of the gums causes inflammation.
Inflammation of the gums causes swelling, redness, and bleeding. If you notice a tiny amount of blood when you spit after brushing your teeth once in a while, then it’s not a reason for concern. But if you see a lot of blood or it happens more often than not, then you are experiencing inflammation of the gums and should have a dentist evaluate them.
The reason inflammation is so bad is because that inflammation will cause the gums to pull away from the teeth and the bone can even deteriorate. This leads to sensitivity, tooth movement, and even complete loss of the teeth. The frustrating thing about periodontal disease is that it is so preventable by getting regular dental cleanings.
Dental cleanings are usually done every six months. I think that is a good amount of time for about 80% of the population. Most people who I see every six months have just a tiny amount of tartar. It’s easy and nearly painless to remove and their gums and bone are health.
When cleanings are put off for too long it is not uncommon to see huge chunks of tartar. The gums are often severely inflamed and sometimes there has been significant bone loss. Once the bone is gone it is gone forever.
There are about 15% of my patients who I advise to come in every three or four months for their cleanings. They may just build up tartar more rapidly than most people. Or they may just be especially sensitive to plaque. Some even have some level of periodontal disease and we want to make sure to prevent it from progressing.
There are about 5% of my patients who have exceptional oral hygiene and I have them come in just once a year. I don’t see any reason to do a cleaning if it is not necessary.
Just as everything in life, prevention is the key. So don’t forget your teeth! You only get one set and you want to keep them healthy for life. So I know life is busy but it really is not that hard to do a cleaning every six months. Just twice in a year. Once you get on a schedule your dentist will remind you when you’re due!