More than 50% of Americans have gum disease; if you are one of them, your dental cleaning is not “just a cleaning.” Patients will often ask their hygienist, “What’s the difference between periodontal maintenance and a regular cleaning?” This is a fair question since the cost is different and it may feel like a similar procedure.
A “regular cleaning” is typically recommended every six months for patients who have healthy bone and gums. You could use the analogy of changing the oil in your car periodically to protect and prevent damage to a well-running engine. At a regular hygiene appointment, your hygienist will remove stains, soft plaque and tartar above the gums and will check for cavities.
Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection caused by plaque that destroys the bone and fibers that hold your teeth in place. As with other ailments, some people are more susceptible than others. Smoking, a stressful lifestyle, some medications, diabetes and prior gum problems are just a few of the things that can increase your risk. To treat this, our goal is to stop infection by cleaning and disinfecting the roots of the teeth – above and below the gum line. This is called scaling and root planing (SRP). Usually, this is done in two separate visits, and the dentist may use a local anesthetic and will often treat one half of your mouth at a time.
Periodontal disease is not cured, rather it is a chronic condition, much like diabetes, and can be controlled. Once structural damage has occurred, it is permanent, and the pockets are impossible to keep clean by ordinary flossing and brushing. Modern therapies such as laser therapy and placing antibiotics under the gum line in the periodontal pockets will help many to avoid gum surgery and loss of teeth. Careful oral hygiene at home and frequent office visits to monitor and maintain your gums and bone is a team effort in the war on periodontal disease. How often you need to visit your hygienist will vary based on your individual needs. Studies show that it only takes three months for bacteria to build up in these pockets to the point where they caused the problem in the first place. Many can stay healthy when they schedule maintenance appointments at 3- to 4-month intervals. At each visit, we’ll clean and disinfect your teeth above and below the gum line, take periodic x-rays and measure your pockets. If we find an area that is beginning to relapse, we can treat it before it becomes a bigger problem. If we find that there has been no change, then your treatment schedule is working to control your periodontal disease, and we should stay the course.
Good periodontal health has extended benefits – it is important in blood sugar regulation for diabetics; it keeps your heart, respiratory and reproductive systems healthier. Don’t skip your maintenance appointment – it’s so much more than “just a cleaning.”