As an adult, you know that there are some things you’re just supposed to do: pay your bills on time, change your smoke detector batteries once a year… and brush and floss your teeth every day. You also know that despite our best intentions, not everyone does those things routinely. But let’s say you actually do use fluoride toothpaste to brush twice daily, and you floss your teeth once a day. Do you still need professional tooth cleanings?
First of all, congratulations! By taking excellent care of your oral hygiene at home, you’re certainly saving yourself plenty of time and trouble at the dental office—and more than likely you’re avoiding some pain and expense too, since you will probably have better checkups and fewer cavities. You can feel happy, knowing that you’re doing your part to prevent gum disease and tooth decay. But you can’t start skipping checkups and cleanings.
Why not? There are a number of reasons, but let’s start with this one: Even if you are diligent in using brush and floss to clean your teeth, it’s just about impossible to remove the hardened deposits that build up over time. True, brushing and flossing can effectively remove sticky plaque, even from between the teeth – but as for the tartar (or calculus), a tough mixture of minerals and organic substances that forms on tooth surfaces (even below the gums), these at-home tools aren’t enough: Only special instruments in the hands of a skilled dental professional can really do the job.
What’s so bad about tartar? It’s not just that these brownish deposits are unsightly; they are also a prime breeding ground for harmful oral bacteria. When these bacteria process the sugars in your diet, they release acids that can cause tooth decay and gum disease. If left untreated, this can eventually lead to inflammation and infection of the gums, and may worsen the effects of systemic diseases like diabetes or heart disease. That’s why it is so important for your dentist to remove built-up tartar from your teeth at regular intervals.
But there’s more to a routine dental visit than just a cleaning. Your hygienist and dentist will assess the health of the tissues in your mouth (teeth, gums, tongue and cheek lining) and try to intercept any potential problems before they become serious. You will receive an oral cancer screening, and you’ll have an opportunity to ask questions about your oral health. In fact, since a visit to the dental office may be your most frequent contact with a health care professional, it’s also a good place to bring up concerns or changes with any aspect of your health.
When you leave the dental office after a professional cleaning, your teeth will have that sparkly-fresh feeling that you just can’t get from brushing at home. And chances are, if you’ve been careful about brushing and flossing at home, you’ll receive a good report about your oral health and some well-earned praise; perhaps you’ll even get a toothbrush to take home.