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Teeth Cleanings – Why Do I Need Them So Often?

Having your teeth cleaned should be part of your routine for keeping yourself healthy.  Healthy teeth not only keep your mouth healthy, it also helps keep the rest of your body healthy.
teeth cleaning
Plaque has hardened into calculus between a patient’s lower front teeth.

Plaque starts to build up within 24 hours of having your teeth cleaned.  Proper brushing and flossing help to interrupt and remove the plaque but even the best brushers and flossers cannot remove all the plaque.  Any plaque left behind starts to harden after a few days.  That means that if you do not remove that plaque, it will harden into what we call calculus (also known as tartar).  The most common places that this builds up is underneath your gums and behind your lower front teeth.  The calculus buildup is what our hygienists work to remove using their ultrasonic scalers and hand scalers.

The buildup of calculus on your teeth causes an inflammation in your gums.  The plaque that causes the buildup is made up of bacteria.  These bacteria form colonies that continue to grow and solidify on the surfaces of your teeth.  These bacteria can cause cavities and periodontal disease.  The bacteria cause inflammation in the gums around them leading to gingivitis.  If the bacteria sits there for too long or if there is a more virulent bacteria present (more virulent=nastier), then the inflammation leads to periodontal disease.

What does periodontal disease mean?

Periodontal disease means that there is a state of chronic inflammation in the gums as well as the bones that hold your teeth in.  The bacteria that cause periodontal disease live in the pockets between your teeth and your gums.  These bacteria trigger your body to start an inflammatory response to try to kill the bacteria.  Since the bacteria are not killed by this reaction, our body enters a state of chronic inflammation in the mouth that leads to a breakdown of the gum tissues and bones around the teeth.  This leads to bone loss, gum recession, loose teeth and eventually tooth loss.

Our oral health is directly connected to our overall health.

There are a host of medical conditions that can be worsened by periodontal disease.  Any medical condition that has an inflammatory component is worsened if periodontal disease is present.  If  there is inflammation in your mouth, like gingivitis or gum disease, it causes an inflammatory reaction that travels throughout your whole body which can cause your other health conditions to worsen.  Some reports are even saying that an adult with periodontal disease is twice as likely to suffer a stroke as compared to an adult with healthy gums.  Working to keep your mouth healthy will lower the inflammation in your body and improve your overall health.

Medical Conditions Affected by Periodontal Disease & Inflammation
  • Coronary Artery Disease (Heart Disease)
  • Heart Attack
  • Stroke
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Psoriasis
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Diabetes
Regular hygiene visits and proper home care can help.

To answer  the question of how often someone needs to have their teeth professionally cleaned, we have to look at the patient as a whole.  There is no cookie-cutter answer for this.  We look at the amount of buildup a patient has accumulated since their last cleaning, the level of inflammation in their gums indicated by colour, texture and shape of the gums as well as the amount of bleeding from the gums when we touch them.  We also consider the patient’s risk factors (some of which are listed above), home care routine, ability to keep teeth clean and amount of crowding.  If a patient has minimal buildup, no inflammation and does a good job at home, we recommend they come for a cleaning and exam every 6 months.  If the patient has more buildup and signs of inflammation, we recommend they have their teeth cleaned every 4 months.  If they have all of the above as well as medical conditions that are worsened by inflammation, we would like to see them every 3 months for cleanings to lower their risks of periodontal disease which may worsen their medical conditions.

We also work closely with our patients to help improve their home care routine.  The more you can prevent plaque from building up on your teeth in between visits, the less buildup there will be that will contribute to the inflammation in your mouth.  Our hygienists and dentists can offer you tips and suggestions to help you brush and floss better, whether it is recommending an electric toothbrush, modifying your brushing technique or offering you a sample of a new type of floss to try.  If you are having troubles cleaning an area, ask our hygienists or dentists for their advice so we can help keep you healthier!

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