It’s typically recommended you visit the dentist at least twice a year, regardless of whether you have anything wrong with you. This is casually referred to as a “check up and clean” in many places. The technical name is oral prophylaxis and along with brushing and flossing at home, it is one of the most important things you can do to keep your mouth healthy.
What Is Oral Prophylaxis?
Oral prophylaxis is a thorough examination of your oral health combined with a scale and clean and can be conducted by a dentist or a dental hygienist.
The examination consists of various components:
- Update of medical history. One of the most important things of an oral prophylaxis is to update your history and compare it against your records. This will help the dentist determine if further action or examination is required.
- Dental X-Rays. Digital dental X-rays are taken of your mouth to get an up-to-date picture of what’s going on below the surface. It can help to reveal problems with teeth and bone, such as monitoring the progress of wisdom teeth that may cause complications. Depending on your oral health history, you may get these during every visit, or only every other visit.
- Periodontal probing. There is a small gap between your gums and teeth at the gum line. In healthy teeth, this gap is very shallow. In infected teeth with gingivitis or periodontitis, however, this gap forms into a pocket measuring several millimetres in depth. You will have this gap checked to see how deep it is, and whether there is any reason to suspect a problem.
- Oral cancer check. It’s more and more common for an oral cancer check to be performed as part of oral prophylaxis which is done at every visit.
A “scale and clean” involves removing plaque and tartar from the teeth, then polishing the teeth. This is often finished with a fluoride mouthwash to help strengthen the teeth.
Scaling is the act of removing tartar, also known as calculus, from the teeth. During a regular dental prophylaxis, this is performed with specialised scraping tools to remove the hardened buildups. Ultrasonic tools may be used, but typically these aren’t necessary for the small buildups experienced in a regular clean.
Polishing the teeth is done to remove plaque, a sticky film-like substance that acts as a precursor to tartar. A common method of polishing teeth today is to use what is known as a Prophy Jet. This is an air-powder polishing unit that combines air, water, and fine powder to polish teeth. Plaque is removed from the surface which is then smoothed down by the jet to prevent plaque from having anything to hold onto when it starts to regrow.
Reasons to Get Oral Prophylaxis
Most diseases and complications of the mouth can be prevented through proper oral hygiene. This is a combination of at-home care, involving brushing and flossing, and regular oral prophylaxis.
While brushing and flossing will slow the buildup of tartar or calculus, it’s not possible to completely stop their growth. Visiting a dentist to have those inevitable buildups cleared out regularly keeps your teeth in the best possible health. It drastically reduces the chances of gingivitis and periodontitis conditions which can lead to severe cavities, root canals, tooth extractions and more.
Oral prophylaxis also gives dentists a chance to catch problems early on. Some complications are caused by factors that can’t be dealt with through oral hygiene. Problem wisdom teeth can be spotted and dealt with before they become major concerns. Oral cancers can be caught early. Diseases in the mouth caused by other health conditions or behavioural factors such as smoking and drinking can be found in their earliest moments.
In all of these situations, early intervention results in less time, money, effort, and discomfort to the patient, and is invaluable to maintaining optimal oral health for life.