Why A Cleaning Isn’t Just A Cleaning: 5 Things About Your Dental Hygiene Visit You May Not Know About

By : Sue Ellen Umali

The week of April 7th to 13th is Dental Hygiene Week! Registered Dental Hygienists in the province of Ontario are required to complete a dental hygiene program by an accredited school specifically designed to train Dental Hygienists. Programs are often at least 18 months to 2 years in length. In the province of Ontario, Dental Hygienists are considered Oral Health Professionals and once we obtain a Self-Initiation License, we are able to practice independently. With this being said, there are many responsibilities and duties that fall under our scope of practice.

Often times, patients are unaware of what exactly a hygienist does. You probably often refer to your hygiene therapy treatments as “just a cleaning” but it is so much more than that.

Based on a thorough assessment of your “gum” condition, your hygienist performs various procedures to ensure your gum health is being maintained. Aside from it just being all about the “gums,” your dental hygienist also notes any abnormalities or suspicious areas that may require further attention.

So why is a cleaning, not really just a cleaning? A lot of people think when they’re sitting in their hygienist’s chair is that they are ‘just having their teeth cleaned’. There is so much more going on.

Your Medical History
When you visit your hygienist, we update your medical history at every appointment. Why you ask? Quite often, patients do not see how much their medical history impacts their oral health. Medical history and family history identify any risks or potential risks in order to help you maintain optimal oral health. For example, if you are taking medications for blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol you are at risk for dry mouth. Dry mouth can create issues with the development of decay and loss of taste among other symptoms.

2. Intra-Oral and Extra-Oral Assessment, Homecare Assessment
When we “take a look” we’re not just looking for areas that look suspicious on your teeth. We’re checking for any lumps or bumps in the head and neck area, any discoloration not just in your oral tissues but also changes in a moles and anything that can warrant a concern. This assessment allows us to determine if further screening is needed especially when it may pertain to oral cancer.

When we look at your teeth we assess for things such as plaque build-up which helps us determine if the home care regimen needs improvement. Based on this information we will decide which homecare recommendations or suggestions will aid in a more effective home care regimen. After all, you only visit your hygienist every few months, what you do between your appointments will heavily impact the longevity and health of your teeth and gums.

3. The Periodontal Assessment
The periodontal assessment is critical in determining the response of the tissues/gums to the previous scaling (cleaning) appointments. The color and appearance of the tissues are noted as well as changes from the previous appointment.
No one likes to be poked and prodded but in order to determine areas of concerns, we have to periodically assess your gum health by measuring your pocket depth, recession, mobility of your teeth, and other variables to aid us in determining the health of the supporting structures of your teeth. A full examination is not done at each appointment but those deeper areas are often measured to assess for stability or progression of disease patients are most likely unaware of.

4. Collaboration with Other Health Care Professionals
When the cause of declining gingival health cannot be determined or unexplained abnormalities are found in the mouth, there is often a need to refer to or work with other health care professionals. This isn’t defined only as professionals in the dental field but others such as a medical doctor, or specialist, diabetic educator, nutritionist, etc. that relate specifically to the findings. The goal a hygienist always has in mind is helping guide patients to optimal overall health and in doing so, it may require collaboration with other health care professionals.

5. The Scaling or “Cleaning”
Lastly, the scaling is properly termed in the hygienist field as “debridement.” This is what every patient recognizes as their cleaning. This often entails the use of an ultrasonic cleaning device that pulsates water in combination with the use of hand instruments. After the scaling or removal of bacteria, calculus and debris, adjunctive therapies may be recommended based on the assessment of the tissues from one appointment to the next. Whether it be more frequent scaling visits, a full periodontal assessment or additional hygiene therapy the goal is to improve the tissues if they are still in an inflammatory state.

So when you think about all that’s done during your appointment, you can see that a cleaning isn’t just a cleaning but includes a variety of assessments that all tie in to maintaining your Optimal Oral Health!

If you have any further questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact us and ask your Dental Hygienist about what she/he can do to help you improve your Overall Oral Health!