Do I really need to get my teeth cleaned professionally? This is the most frequently asked question that I receive.
Professional cleaning, also known as scaling; is the fastest growing dental prophylaxis, to remove dental plaque and calculus (tartar) which irritate the gums and cause inflammation. Over time, this inflammation puts you at the risk of developing gum disease called gingivitis.
If gingivitis is not treated, the inflammation progresses to the foundation of the tooth causing a periodontal pocket and within the pocket causes more damage. This damage can further breakdown the supporting (bone) structures of the teeth.
Scaling is done to get rid of the bacteria in the pocket and helps the gums adhere more firmly to the teeth.
Scaling if done regularly, that is, every six months to remove calculus, breaks the cycle of gum disease and keeps the teeth and its supporting structures healthy.
This topic hits home for me. I see several patients coming in with periodontal (gum) disease but hesitate at the idea of getting their teeth cleaned professionally, even after having been informed of all the negative impacts it has on their teeth.
Age old wrong notions about scaling of teeth are what stops patients from undertaking this course of treatment.
Let’s look at some of the misconceptions and realities behind them.
Myth 1: Scaling causes tooth mobility
Truth: Have you ever had a tooth extracted? Tooth is the hardest substance in the human body.
A plausible explanation for this myth may be that people with excessive build up of calculus get their teeth cleaned for the first time after very long (say at about 30-40+ years of age). Thus, at that point the only thing holding the teeth in place is the tartar around them. Removing the calculus gives people a feeling that it is the scaling that actually loosens the teeth while in reality it is the progression of the gum disease that eventually leads to destruction of the bone. This explains the tooth’s lose anchorage.
Myth 2: Scaling makes teeth sensitive
Truth: Again this is a misconception. Calculus build up causes the gums to recede and thus exposing the root of a tooth.
That is the part that is susceptible to hot and cold substances as the root does not have protective layer. That is, enamel around it, unlike the crown of the tooth.
Usually teeth sensitivity reduces within a week of scaling as the gums bounce back to good health, provided proper hygiene is maintained. Scaling when done regularly (every 6 months) prevents gum recession which in turn prevents sensitivity in the long run.
Myth 3: Scaling weakens the teeth and removes enamel
Truth: There is absolutely no grinding or cutting of teeth during scaling as the ultrasonic scaler has a non cutting tip.
In fact the scaler works with the pressure of the water-jet and it is a combination of ultrasonic vibrations and water that removes the tartar.
Myth 4: Scaling is not required until your gums bleed
Truth: The sad part about gum diseases is that it is usually not accompanied with pain, thus ignored a lot of times until it reaches very serious stages.
The most common complaints are related to bleeding gums, bad odour and/or pus discharge.
Waiting for your gums to start bleeding will lead to bigger problems afterwards.
Myth 5: Scaling creates gap between the teeth
Truth: What happens is tartar builds up on the sides and backs of the teeth like a collar. It tends to irritate the gums so that it recedes away from it’s normal position.
Tartar builds up even more to fill in the gaps. When the tartar is cleaned off, you see the space that was occupied and where the gum used to be.
It’s never too late to make things right. Visit your dentist and schedule a scaling appointment. Your teeth will thank you.
The author is a dentist based at Ebrahim Haji Charitable Health Centre.