Dental hygiene describes a variety of services for professionally cleaning the teeth. Many such services, like scaling and cleaning, are performed during routine check-ups at our dental hygiene clinic.
A dental hygienist is a professional who cleans and polishes the patient’s teeth and advises them on how to take better care of their teeth. They also examine the patient’s gums and discuss their medical history and X-ray results with them. Dental hygienists will also apply substances like sealants or fluoride to the patient’s teeth to prevent decay. Most people should see a dentist twice a year to have their teeth and gums examined and to have them professionally cleaned.
What Can Someone Expect During Their First Visit with a Dental Hygienist?
After taking the patient’s medical history, the hygienist will examine and assess the patient’s gums. They will use a small pick to check for pockets and signs of infection or inflammation like bleeding or pus. Deep gum pockets greater than 3 mm indicate a problem, for they provide a place for bacteria to accumulate, and those bacteria can damage soft tissues and even bone.
Healthy gums are pink and have shallow or no pockets. A deep red color indicates inflammation. If the hygienist finds signs of infection or inflammation, they may order X-rays to check the condition of tissues below the gum line.
After completing the examination, the hygienist will discuss the patient’s oral habits with them and give them advice on how to improve them. They will then scale and clean the patient’s teeth, polish them, and apply an enamel varnish or fluoride treatment to prevent tooth decay.
What Do Cleaning and Scaling the Teeth Involve?
Cleaning and scaling are done to remove plaque and tartar (calculus) from teeth. Plaque is a colorless and sticky film formed out of bacteria. Careful brushing can generally remove it. Plaque that remains on the teeth for too long, however, eventually hardens into a white substance called tartar – and brushing can’t remove that.
The development of tartar is one reason why it is generally recommended that people visit a dental hygiene clinic at least twice a year. Dental hygienists can clean and scale the teeth to remove the plaque and tartar. In the old days, dentists used to use metal picks to remove plaque and tartar from teeth. These days, they use an ultrasonic wand. It’s a handheld instrument with a rapidly vibrating tip that can blast away plaque and tartar. It has the same effect on stains and can, thus, make teeth whiter. The scaler also emits a stream of liquid called lavage that flushes away debris and keeps the tip cool. Lavage can be water, antibacterial mouthwash, or a mixture of the two. Lavage can also create an effect called cavitation in which the fluid forms tiny bubbles that rupture bacterial cells and make the treated tooth and gum less vulnerable to bacteria.
The ultrasonic scaler works more quickly than a hand scaler, and it is less uncomfortable for the patient. The hygienist can even work under the gum line without causing the patient distress. They can also adjust the scaler to effectively treat patients with sensitive teeth. For example, they can use a thinner tip. After scaling the patient’s teeth, the hygienist will clean and polish them.
What is Sandblasting?
Sandblasting, also known as air abrasion, is a minimally-invasive method of treating tooth decay. It can also be done to remove stains. The hygienist will use a handheld device that emits a stream of small particles made of aluminum oxide, silica, or a mixture containing baking soda. Compressed gas or air will blow the particles toward the treatment site, and they will remove the decay or stains. A small tube will vacuum up any debris.
Air abrasion has a number of advantages. Since the instrument doesn’t actually touch the tooth, it doesn’t cause any vibrations. Air abrasion is, thus, more comfortable for the patient. It also enables the hygienist to more accurately target the decayed or stained part of the tooth, so they remove less healthy enamel. It also reduces the risk of cracking or chipping the tooth, and it reduces the need for anesthesia, especially if the treatment site is small or shallow.
Air abrasion is also safe. Sandblasting, unfortunately, works only on small cavities. Bigger cavities will need to be treated the old-fashioned way.
What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease is an infection that affects the structures surrounding the teeth, like the gums and alveolar bone. The first stage of periodontal disease, gingivitis, affects only the gums, while the later stages, or full-blown periodontitis, involve other tissues. Untreated periodontitis can eventually lead to tooth loss. In gingivitis, bacteria cause the gums to become red, swollen, and tender. They also bleed easily.
If gingivitis progresses and becomes periodontitis, the bacteria and various plaque byproducts like toxins gradually damage the tissues that keep teeth anchored in the jawbone. The gum recedes and can eventually expose the roots of the patient’s teeth. The exposed roots are sensitive to both temperature and touch, and they become susceptible to decay.
Symptoms of periodontal disease include the following:
• Tender, swollen, and red gums
• Gums that bleed easily
• Constant bad taste or bad breath
• Pus between the teeth
• Gums that are pulling away from the teeth
• Changes in the way the teeth fit together when the patient bites
• Changes in the fit of a partial denture
• Loose teeth
How is Periodontal Disease Treated?
The hygienist will typically first try a treatment called scaling and root planing. They will scrape the plaque, tartar, and bacterial toxins off of the patient’s teeth, including the roots. In root planing, the hygienist will use a special tool to make the tooth root smoother, so bacteria will be less able to stick to it. The hygienist will administer a local anesthetic beforehand to keep the patient comfortable. Depending on the severity of the patient’s condition, they may need more than one session to get the desired results.
Weeks after the completed treatment, the hygienist will examine the patient’s gums to see how well they are healing. Ideally, the patient’s gums should have stopped bleeding, and their color should have returned to a nice, healthy pink. If the patient’s gums are still diseased, however, they may need surgery.
What Does Getting a Filling Involve?
A filling is a type of tooth restoration used to repair a tooth damaged by decay. It both strengthens the tooth and can prevent further decay. The dentist will always use a filling made of a composite resin, which matches the color of the patient’s teeth. They no longer use amalgam or silver fillings, for the amalgam can expand or contract when exposed to temperature extremes – and such fluctuations can eventually crack the tooth. Amalgam also doesn’t cover the whole tooth, so the decay can continue to spread and damage the tooth further.
The area will be numbed with a local anesthetic to keep the patient comfortable. The dental professional will then remove the decayed part of the tooth and then fill it with the composite resin. A special light will be used to make the filling hard and strong. It typically takes only one visit to give a patient a filling. Since fillings do not last forever, the patient will have to have them checked during their routine visits.
What is a Grinding Splint?
Also known as a bite splint or occlusal splint, a grinding splint is a type of mouthguard used to treat patients with bruxism or tooth-grinding. A grinding splint is made from a hard plastic, and it fits snugly over the patient’s upper teeth. While it doesn’t stop the patient from grinding their teeth, it does protect the teeth from the damage caused by bruxism. It also relieves some of the pressure on the jaw by guiding it into a neutral position. The grinding splint, thus, reduces any stiffness or pain in the jaw.
The grinding splint is designed to be worn at night. Since many patients only grind their teeth while sleeping, they often do not know that they have bruxism. The dentist, however, can spot bruxism if the patient displays any of the following symptoms:
• Worn teeth
• Cracked teeth or fillings
• Pain and fatigue in the face
• Popping, clicking, or locking of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)
• Sensitive teeth
• Tooth movement
• Pain in the neck or back
What are Inlays and Onlays?
Inlays and onlays are types of tooth restorations. They are stronger and more extensive than a filling, and they are more conservative than a crown. The difference between the two is that an inlay covers the center of the tooth, while an onlay covers one of the cusps or edges. Like crowns, inlays and onlays have to be custom-made.
Inlays and onlays can be made from porcelain, gold, or composite resin. The dentist at the dental hygiene clinic can recommend a given material depending on which tooth is being treated.
What is Sedation Dentistry?
Also known as dental sedation or twilight sedation, this is a treatment used to keep a patient calm and comfortable while they are undergoing a dental procedure. Dental phobias are distressingly common and affect about one out of six adults. This form of dentistry enables such patients to go to the dentist without suffering undue distress. It can also help patients who have a severe gag reflex or are afraid of needles. It is also used to help patients going through a long procedure such as a root canal.
Learn More About Ways to Enhance Your Smile
Talk to our team at Carnegie Dental Clinic to learn more about the various forms of tooth restoration that we offer. Our dental hygiene clinic is conveniently located in Victoria, BC. Contact us today to book your dental appointment!