Keeping your teeth clean and healthy is the cornerstone of not needing dental treatment!
Your last visit with your dental hygienist was 3 months ago. She recommended seeing you every three months to improve the health of your gums…but you really don’t understand WHAT seeing her again will do to help you. In fact, your gums probably don’t even bleed at home when you brush, only when she cleans your teeth! Just in case you didn’t understand why more frequent visits with your dental hygienist are SO important, let me explain.
It’s just a cleaning…or Is It?!
Years ago, a “cleaning” included polishing your teeth, some X-rays, gross-tasting fluoride, and a 2 minute checkup by your dentist. Your teeth felt smoother, but it really didn’t seem too much happened that was important. You would typically schedule your next “cleaning” in 6-12 months, and rescheduling that appointment never seemed like much of a big deal. However, we’ve learned so much about how your dental health affects your overall health.
Some Disgusting Facts
Research teaches us that our biggest enemy in the mouth is called biofilm. This is a highly-organized colony of bacteria that forms on your teeth within hours of having a dental cleaning. It’s kind of like the slime that can form in your dog’s water dish if you don’t clean it completely every time you refill it. This bacterial slime can’t be seen immediately, but it grows on and covers the entire surface of the teeth, especially liking the dark, warm areas under your gums. Over several hours, this biofilm thickens and becomes plaque, that cheesy-looking stuff that you brush off your teeth a few times each day. The bigger problem happens when you miss some areas, especially between the teeth and under the gums. In days, all of the plaque that isn’t removed becomes calculus (tartar), and this is hard, calcified, and stuck to the teeth, and only can be removed by your dental hygienist. The bacteria causing gum disease fills plaque or calculus and creates swelling and infection of your gums.
Are My Gums Infected?
When you see your hygienist, she measures your gum pockets in six places around every tooth with a very thin ruler and calls out or writes down numbers. This measurement should be between 1-3mm when the gums are healthy. You don’t want to hear her say “4” because that means your gum is infected, and you REALLY don’t want her to say “5” or higher because that means the infection has gone into your jawbone! This should be very upsetting, because untreated areas like this will continue and will melt away the bone that supports the teeth, making them loose. And yes, it also smells, just like you would expect an infection to smell. If you don’t “know your numbers,” ask your hygienist to tell you!
What Can the Hygienist Do About This?
Your hygienist has a number of excellent treatments for problems just like yours. In our office, we use a machine that sprays warm water and vibrates under the gums to remove the plaque and calculus and flush out the bacteria. In areas of gum bleeding and gum pockets more than 4mm, we also use a dental laser. This cleans out the lining of the gum pocket where the bacteria like to burrow in and blasts them. If your gum pockets are 5mm or more, she can place antibiotic medicine right into the pocket, and small mouthguards can be given to you with special prescription medicine to wear at home 1-2 times each day. This medicine keeps the biofilm from growing back so quickly, so it can halt the whole bad process.
Your hygienist will want to see you more often than you may be used to so she can help you control this infection. Many of our patients like to come see the hygienist as often as once every 2-3 months so they can avoid the gum surgery than can be needed if the infection isn’t well-controlled.
But Will My Insurance Cover This?
Many of our patients with dental insurance will receive a rebate for dental cleanings a few times each year, but this will likely not reimburse your costs 100%. Some patients with medical insurance may get some money back for the special medicine recommended by the dentist. However, you should understand that your insurance is sadly not designed to prevent future problems. In fact, they may not even reimburse you at all should gum surgery be needed! Plus, the cost of gum surgery is often at least 3-4 times more expensive per visit than your standard hygiene visit.
Insurance or not, any treatment you do to get rid of gum infections is an investment not only in your oral health, but your overall health! Check back for an upcoming blog about how the health of our mouths seriously affects the health of our entire body.
What Should I Do Now?
Your dental hygienist should be able to offer you suggestions on how to keep things really healthy at home. She only recommends what she knows will help make you healthier, so follow what she says! And let your hygienist see you as often as she feels necessary for your gum tissue therapy, because her goal is the same as yours…for you to have your healthiest possible smile! In fact, you should probably call NOW to schedule your next appointment…
Dr. Andrea Stevens is a cosmetic and family dentist in practice in Kanata, Ontario. If you have dental questions, you can call her at 613-271-7091 or visit her at kanatacosmeticdentist.com Please also feel free to leave comments or questions below, and Dr. Stevens will be happy to answer.