Dental Exam & Cleaning

Your oral health plays an important role in your overall health. Your mouth and gums are a gateway to the rest of your body, so issues that start there can impact other areas. For example, gum disease (aka periodontal disease or periodontitis) has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis, and premature birth. The good news is that having your teeth cleaned and examined every six months (or more if your dentist recommends it), when paired with good habits at home, can prevent periodontal disease and its precursor, gingivitis.

Dental Cleaning

Dental cleaning, also known as prophylaxis, cleans your teeth and gums. It’s usually performed by one of our hygienists, who do it as gently, but thoroughly as possible. Cleaning is extremely important because it keeps your mouth and teeth healthy and may help prevent gingivitis, gum disease, tooth decay, tooth loss and more. During a cleaning, your hygienist will:

  • Remove plaque: Plaque is a sticky film that contains bacteria and coats teeth. It’s a combination of saliva, food particles, and fluids and can be found above and below the gum line.
  • Remove tartar: Officially called calculus, tartar is simply hardened plaque. Tartar forms when plaque is left on a tooth for an extended period of time. It firmly attaches to teeth above and below the gum line, which is why it takes special dental tools to remove it.
  • Polish your teeth: Polishing not only brightens your smile by removing stains, it also gets rid of any missed plaque.
  • Floss: Flossing makes sure nothing between the teeth was missed. We will also give you a refresher on proper technique.
  • Offer advice: If there’s any teeth you tend to miss while brushing, if it looks like you’re brushing too hard, or we notice anything else, we’ll bring it up with you.

Dental Exam

During your cleaning, one of our dentists will do a thorough exam that includes:

  •  Reviewing X-rays: They’ll share any concerns with you and talk through treatment options.
  • Screening for oral cancer: Your face, neck, lips, tongue, throat, tissue, and gums will be checked.
  • Gum disease evaluation: They’ll look at the bones around your teeth and your gums for signs of periodontal disease.
  • Checking for tooth decay: Using special instruments, your dentist will examine each tooth for decay.
  • Inspecting existing restorations: All current fillings, crowns, bridges, etc. will be checked to make sure they’re in good order.

Dental Exam & Cleaning FAQs

First of all, welcome. We’re so happy to take care of you and that great smile of yours. In addition to cleaning and an exam, here’s what else you can expect at your first dental appointment with us:

  • Charting: We want to make sure we have all the correct information on your mouth, so we’ll take the time to review and update your chart as necessary.
  • Health review: We’ll ask questions about your general health, family and personal history, and habits.
  • Oral history: We’ll talk to you about your previous dental experiences, review past issues, and ask about current concerns.

The American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Association of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommend that a child sees a dentist within six months of the first tooth, but no later than age one.

If you or your child get nervous about dental exams or have had bad experiences in the past, let us help you relax! We offer comfort measures, from blankets to laughing gas (AKA nitrous oxide), to oral sedation. Share your concerns and we’ll walk you through the options.

X-rays are key in revealing issues not visible to the naked eye. Early detection of an issue can help save you time, money, discomfort, and even your teeth! That’s why full mouth x-rays should be taken every three to five years. Bite-wing x-rays, which are the top and bottom teeth biting together, are usually taken once a year. Additional x-rays may be recommended depending on your individual needs.

  • Abscesses or cysts
  • Bone loss
  • Cancerous and non-cancerous tumors
  • Decay between teeth
  • Developmental abnormalities
  • Poor tooth and root positions
  • Problems inside a tooth
  • Issues below the gum line

One benefit of digital x-rays is that the radiation exposure is extremely minimal⁠ — in fact it’s much less than your average daily exposure. We’ll also take any extra necessary precautions to limit your radiation exposure, such as placing a lead-lined jacket on you. Another benefit of digital x-rays is that they can be taken relatively quickly, freeing up our time to focus on caring for you. If you need x-rays, we generally do those first during your appointment. This way, the hygienist and/or dentist can review them, speak with you about any concerns, and suggest options for treatment.

Gum tissue should wrap tightly around each tooth. Dentists check this by measuring from the top of the gumline to where the tissue attaches to the tooth. A healthy measurement is 1 to 3 millimeters (mm). With gum disease or extended time between bi-yearly cleanings, deeper pockets of 4 mm or more can form, trapping food and causing more tartar buildup. In these instances, your MCDC provider will likely recommend a more in-depth cleaning called scaling and root planing or SRP in short.

Scaling is an extremely deep cleaning of your teeth above and below the gumline to remove all plaque, tartar, and bacterial toxins. It is the most common non-surgical method for treating gum disease and can be done with hand-held or ultrasonic instruments. Root planing is a procedure that smooths out the rough spots of roots, because plaque, tartar, and bacteria can’t adhere as easily to a smooth surface.

Generally, scaling and root planing are split up into two visits, with a different area of the mouth tackled at each one. Local anesthetic is often used to numb the gums and roots, and the procedures cause very little discomfort. There’s usually some tenderness after the numbing wears off and mild bleeding.

In most cases, once scaling and root planing is complete, pockets usually shrink and gums reattach to the teeth. At a follow-up visit, your dentist will confirm whether or not this is the case. If your gums haven’t responded well, you may need additional treatments or be referred to a periodontist.

Properly brushing and flossing your teeth are key to your overall health, not just your mouth, teeth and gums. Brush and floss at least twice a day. You’ll not only help maintain your smile, but also make future dentist appointments a breeze.