Just a scale and polish?

Taking care of your oral health is much more than a routine clean.  It’s simple. You attend your scale and polish appointment with the dental Hygienist, lay back, have your teeth cleaned, scraped, polished and told “we’ll see you again in 6 months”. – Incorrect.

A build-up of plaque bacteria can be a factor in gum disease. The best way to prevent this, is, of course, a good oral hygiene routine with regular daily brushing. But no matter how well you clean, there are always going to be some hard to reach areas and hard to keep clean. 

These are the areas in which plaque bacteria can build up and can form into a tough crust known as tartar. Tartar cannot be removed by brushing alone and has to be scraped away by your dental hygienist. 

If you don’t deal with the build-up of tartar, then more plaque can build up, working its way under the gum line, which can lead to gum disease. This is why it’s important to have a professional clean known as a scale and polish, to remove all that build up. 

What Can You Expect At A Scale & Polish? 

A scale and polish can be carried out by your dentist or dental hygienist. First, there is the scrape stage, which removes deposits of plaque and tartar. Sometimes an ultrasound scraper is used on the tooth surface to get rid of the bulk of it, and then hand-held scrapers are used to get to any of the stubborn remains. 

Next, the surface of the teeth is polished to make them smooth. Polishing not only leaves your teeth bright and shiny, but it also gets rid of minor imperfections, and any rough patches built up on the teeth, which can serve to protect against further plaque build-up. 

Scale and polish treatment should be carried out regularly. Professional cleaning is important but should be in addition to, not instead of a good daily hygiene routine. Brush twice a day and use dental floss. 

The Scale And Polish Mindset

As an industry, collectively we need to move away from this ‘scale and polish’ mindset. We as dental Hygienists and Therapists spend 3 years at university studying as well as continuing our development in all aspects of dentistry ultimately, allowing for the updating of skills and knowledge to pass onto our patients in order to prevent deterioration of the supportive structures in the mouth; the foundations, scaffolding and all the bits in between – your gums.

Addressing your home care is the imperative aspect of your appointment, as ultimately this can be the difference in having a reversible condition such as gingivitis or an irreversible condition such as periodontitis, or gum disease. Not only for your oral health but your general health and wellbeing.

Stages Of Gum Disease

Stages of Gum Disease - Scale And Polish To Avoid

In depth, long term research studies have confirmed that there is a positive link between periodontitis and heart disease. Bacteria found in plaque can enter the bloodstream and into the vessels surrounding the heart, resulting in fatty deposits. Consequently, these deposits may cause heart attacks and strokes. A study conducted in (2018) found evidence of oral bacteria DNA in cardiac tissue in those subjects who presented with periodontitis, but whether there is a causal effect is still to be determined. Ultimately, reducing bacteria within the mouth by having a rigid home care routine could well determine your future health or existing heart condition.

Some recent research studies show an association between gum disease and heart disease. In one study from 2014, researchers looked at people who had both gum disease and heart disease. They discovered that people who had received adequate care for their gum disease had cardiovascular care costs that were 10 to 40 percent lower than people who didn’t get proper oral care. These findings support the idea that gum health affects heart health.

Heart conditions Related To Dental Health

Peridontitis and Diabetes

Following on from this, there has also been a link identified between periodontitis and diabetes. It has been made apparent that patients with periodontitis can find it harder to control their diabetic levels and could increase the risk of complications within the heart and kidneys.

Because high blood sugar levels lead to damage in the blood vessels, this reduces the supply of oxygen to the gums, making infections of the gums and bones more likely.

Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can cause levels of glucose to rise in the saliva and this creates a breeding ground for bacteria, increasing the risk of gum disease and dental decay.

There is also ongoing research that shows the correlation between periodontitis and rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.

We are a generation of professionals who don’t just see our patients as ‘a mouth’ with potential problems to fix. We see our patients as a whole person, treating you holistically from your mouth, teeth and gums to your heart to your gut. With regular check-ups, dental examinations and dental hygienist visits, it may be more than just your teeth you’d be looking after.

Laura Checksfield, Dental Hygiene Therapist

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