Close up of kind woman doing teeth cleaning

Getting Your Teeth Cleaned is For More Than Cosmetic Purposes

It’s been three months since your last cleaning. Surely waiting another three months won’t be that bad, right?


Keeping your teeth clean and healthy is the best way to prevent more intensive dental treatment.

Why do I need to get a cleaning?

A cleaning used to consist of your dental hygienist polishing your teeth, taking some x-rays, gross tasting fluoride, and a two minute checkup by the dentist. You’d leave with your teeth feeling smoother, but questions of whether or not the cleaning was actually effective.

Now dentists know better.

They’ve learned about a secret enemy in your mouth called biofilm. This highly-organized colony of bacteria forms on your teeth within hours of having your teeth cleaned. It can’t be seen immediately, but it grows on the entire surface of your teeth and it loves the dark, warm areas under your gums. Within several hours, the biofilm thickens and eventually turns into plaque. When you miss some areas while brushing, especially between your teeth and under your gums, the plaque turns into tartar. This hard, calcified substance is stuck to your teeth and can only be removed by your hygienist.

The bacteria that causes gum disease fills the plaque or tartar and leads to your gums becoming swollen and infected.

How do I know if my gums are infected?

When you go in for a cleaning, your hygienist measures your gum pockets in six places around every tooth with a thin ruler and calls out or writes down measurements. The measurements should be between 1-3mm when your gums are healthy.

If your dentist says “four,” it means that your gums are infected. If they say “five” it means that the infection has travelled into your jawbone. This is the worst case scenario because if left untreated, the infection will melt away the bone that supports the teeth, making them loose. If that’s not bad enough, it smells exactly like you would expect an infection to smell.

Your hygienist can offer you suggestions on how to keep things as healthy as possible at home. They will always recommend what they know will make you healthier, so it’s important to really consider what they’re saying. Both of you are on the same team in the fight against infection.

How can I fight the infection?

Your hygienist has a number of treatments in her arsenal for cases like yours.

In some cases, your hygienist may use a machine that sprays warm water and vibrates under your gums to remove the plaque, tartar, and bacteria.

If your gums are bleeding or your gum pockets measure more than 4mm, they may use a dental laser to blast out the bacteria from the lining of the gum pocket.

If your gum pockets are 5mm or more, your hygienist can place antibiotic medicine right into the pocket. You can also get a mouthguard with medication that keeps the biofilm from growing back so quickly. This level of infection will require more appointments with your hygienist so that they can help you control the infection. Some patients come in once every 2-3 months so that you can avoid the surgery that may be needed if the infection still isn’t controlled.

Will my insurance cover the cost?

Most patients with insurance will receive a rebate for dental cleanings a few times a year, but you may not get 100% of the cost back. In some cases, you may be able to get money back for the medication recommended by the dentist.

It is important to understand that insurance is not designed to prevent future problems. In fact, you may not even get reimbursed for any surgery that may be needed. The cost of gum surgery is often at least 3-4 times more expensive than your standard hygiene visit.

Whether you have insurance or not, any treatment that you do get is not only an investment in your oral health, but your overall health as well.

If you really want to make sure that your teeth and gums are as healthy as possible, contact Dr. Andrea Stevens and her team.

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