On any given day, I would turn up at my practice and look at my appointment book. It’s not uncommon to see a new patient booking in for a ‘clean of their teeth’. After talking to many of these patients, the majority haven’t had professional cleaning done by a dentist for many years, even though they have an impression they probably need one. The tragic thing in my opinion is that they had been told by a dentist in the past that they have ‘gum disease’ but none of them understood what it was, why do they have them or what can be done about it. A fair few put it down to genetic but the reality is, it’s only half true. Most people seek professional cleaning for a few reasons and they usually have to do with bleeding gum or bad breath. Unfortunately, there’re much worse problems.
After the cleaning was done, I sat the patients up and showed them some photos, like the ones below here. The first photo was before cleaning and the latter was after cleaning. It clearly showed that after the clean, there appeared to be a lot of gaps between teeth as a result of gum recession.
Before cleaning: Hard plaque accumulation
Immediately after cleaning: Gum recession and gaps
The point I’m trying to make is that most of my patients misunderstand what dentists do for a “clean”. There are 2 types of plaque/ bacteria in your mouth, the soft type and the hard type. The hard plaque, commonly known as tartar, forms by calcium from saliva when you leave soft plaque around the teeth for too long. While patients are generally concerned about stains on their teeth, a cosmetic aspect of dentistry, we as dentists are more worried about the hard plaque. By all means we clean all the plaque during the cleaning visit but within 24 hours, the soft plaque would form around the gum again. So why is professional cleaning important?
The most important aspect of professional cleaning is to remove the hard plaque around your teeth and gum, the bits that patients cannot remove themselves at home. As seen in the pictures, when these hard plaque accumulates around the gum, the gum gets pushed down. As a consequence, the bone underneath gets eroded with it. If this process continues, there would be a point where the teeth become loose. Remember, teeth need to sit inside the gum!
Gum recession and bone loss
Unfortunately, dentists haven’t found a way to grow all these gum back for our patients yet, so when a patient shows up asking “Doc, my teeth are loose. What can you do for me?”, the answer is usually, “Not much. It’s a bit too late now”. When dentists clean off the hard plaque, the gum doesn’t grow back. We only stop the disease from progressing further, but the existing damage cannot be undone. There will always be wear and tear on the gum throughout your life but with regular maintenance, it can get you there. So as the title suggested, it’s not just a clean.
In the next blog, I will go into more details about gum diseases and treatment.
To your healthy smile.
Supa Dental, Melton.