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Dental Cleaning and Exam

Dentist in Gaithersburg, Potomac, Rockville

Girl Brushing Dad's Teeth

Professional dental cleaning and exams are essential for maintaining your oral health. Did you know that your oral health can contribute to the health of the rest of your body? 

Research has shown associations between periodontal (gum) disease and chronic diseases like diabetes, coronary artery disease, adverse pregnancy outcomes, and rheumatoid arthritis. Some studies suggest that the inflammatory mediators in periodontal disease (oral microbes, lipopolysacchardides, proinflammatory molecules) contribute to the systemic conditions when they gain access to different parts of the body. This makes it even more important to pay mind to your oral health, maintaining good hygiene and regular professional exams.


What happens in a dental cleaning and exam? 

The dentist or hygienist will greet you and check for updates to your medical history. He/she will also perform an oral cancer screening (LINK HERE), observing for any abnormalities that might need further investigation or testing. This is generally very comfortable and many patients have stated that this part feels like a head/neck massage. The dentist will also assess the health of your gums, examine for any visible infections/cavities (also called caries), and take any x-rays needed to check for caries not visible to the naked eye. Occasionally, you will also have x-rays taken at a different angle to check up on the health of your teeth with past dental work (like root canals), or one of your full head to evaluate your mouth as a whole, including your jaw joints, sinuses, and tooth positioning. Sometimes this exam happens at the beginning of the visit, but it can also happen at the end of your visit. 


In order to clean your teeth, the dentist/hygienist will use special instruments called scalers to carefully cut the calculus off of your teeth. Some calculus is supragingival (above your gums), and other deposits are subgingival (below your gums). After the calculus is removed, he/she will floss your teeth and might polish with an abrasive paste to remove surface stains. If you had a large amount of calculus between your teeth, it may feel like you have extra space between your teeth! 


What is plaque? 

Plaque is a biofilm, which is a bacterial slime that feasts on the sugars that pass through your mouth. The plaque bacteria are the source of many problems, like tooth decay and gum disease.


This plaque biofilm is very sticky! When the bacteria feed, they secrete acid that damages the enamel of your teeth. Unfortunately, once your tooth structure is lost to decay, it cannot grow back. 


The good news is that it takes 24 hours for a plaque biofilm to regrow, so with 2x daily brushing and 1x daily flossing, you can keep the plaque off of your teeth!


What is calculus?

Over time, a combination of the minerals from your saliva combine with dental plaque and calcifies to form calculus. This is a hard, yellow deposit that sticks to your teeth. Neither brushing or flossing can remove calculus once it precipitates, and it forms a rough surface that is perfect for the formation of more calculus. If you can see the calculus building up between your teeth (especially the front lower teeth!), it is time for another dental cleaning. 

Your dentist or hygienist will use specialized instruments to scrape the calculus off your teeth. This does not damage healthy enamel. 


In order to prevent the buildup of calculus, it is important to follow proper brushing and flossing techniques. The goal is to remove the plaque bacteria, which will also prevent decay and tooth infections. Make sure that you adapt the floss like a “C” and wipe the floss up and down along the side of each tooth. When you’re brushing, use small, circular motions to gently sweep away the loosened plaque. 


Why is calculus bad? 

Think of calculus like a splinter in your finger. The calculus is an irritant that inflames your gums, leading to first gingivitis (reversible), then causing bone resorption as periodontitis (non-reversible). 


Our recommendations: 

  • Brushing: Remember to brush twice a day, for at least 2 minutes each time. Brush in the morning before you eat breakfast, and then in the evening after you’re done eating for the night. Use small, gentle, circular motions to carefully sweep the plaque out of the pockets between your teeth and your gums. If your toothbrush bristles are splaying outwards, you might be brushing too hard!

  • Flossing: We recommend flossing once daily at night, before you brush your teeth. In terms of effectiveness, we recommend unwaxed floss to catch the most plaque. For convenience, we recommend the long-handled Reach Access flosser, which can be kept with your toothbrush to encourage daily usage. 

What else can I do to keep my teeth healthy? 

  • Use a fluoridated toothpaste and mouthwash. Fluoride strengthens the enamel and is completely safe in commercially-available quantities. 

  • You can drink water after each meal to help wash away plaque. 

  • Limit sugary beverages to only at meal time

  • If you eat or drink something acidic, have a glass of water and then wait 30 minutes before brushing. This allows the bicarbonate in your saliva to neutralize the acid, preventing loss of tooth acid-softened structure as you brush. 


Good dental hygiene habits can help keep your teeth healthy and strong. If you have any questions about your current dental hygiene routine, please contact us here.

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