What patients call a “cleaning,” dental professionals call scaling and polishing. Instead of polishing we sometimes use the word “prophylaxis” which means “prevention.” As much as it thrills😎us to use important sounding words like “prophylaxis” we often can’t be bothered with all those pesky syllables. So we just say “prophy.” Let’s settle for “polishing.”
What, Exactly, Are We Cleaning?
We are trying to eliminate some or all of three things:
- Tartar (“calculus”)
Stain is discolouration left behind by things like tobacco, coffee, tea and wine. Sometimes, micro-organisms produce pigments which can stain the teeth. Mostly, stains can be polished away. They have no particular health consequences but they are unsightly and few people want them there.
Plaque is a sticky, almost invisible (tooth coloured) film that forms on the teeth. It is a growing colony of living bacteria and other micro-orgainisms, food debris, and saliva. A plaque colony is referred to nowadays as a biofilm. Its internal organization is impressive and its micro-orgainsims produce toxins (poisons) that inflame the gums and start the decay process. Dental plaque is easily removed in the dental office by polishing, or at home it can be dealt with effectively (with practice) using a brush and dental floss. Learning that skill is very important.
If the biofilm is allowed to stay in place long enough, it calcifies (fossilizes, so to speak.) The hardened version of plaque is called tartar by the general public. We dental professionals call it calculus because that makes it seem more scholarly🙄. Calculus forms above and below the gum line and can only be removed with special dental instruments. It seems like it’s firmly glued to the tooth. The special instruments are called scalers and these sharp little devices allow us to scrape the hardened calculus from the teeth. Other scalers are not sharp but vibrate at ultrasoniic frequencies to “shatter” the calculus. Use of either system to remove calculus is called “scaling.”
Calculus is porous and vastly increases the surface area on which micro-organisms can thrive. If the calculus is not removed, gum and bone deterioration are likely to occur. That can lead to eventual tooth loss.
We offer the choice of ultrasonic scaling, as well as hand scaling. Selective polishing, if needed or requested, is conducted using the familiar rubber cup and commercial fluoridated “prophy paste” or Growing Beautiful Smiles homemade tooth polishing paste.