As well as regularly visiting your dentist, hygiene appointments should also be an essential part of your dental care. Hygienists are qualified members of the dental team who focus on preventing and treating gum disease by promoting good oral hygiene.
Gum disease causes inflammation of the tissue that surrounds teeth and, if not treated, it can lead to recession of the gums. This can cause pockets to develop as the gum moves away from the tooth and can eventually lead to loosening of the teeth. The cleaner your teeth, the less likely you are to develop gum disease. A hygienist will not only thoroughly clean your teeth but will also show you how to keep up the good work at home.
During an appointment, the hygienist will assess the health of your gums and teeth and look for any signs of swelling, inflammation or bleeding. The hygienist may also take measurements where the gum attaches to the tooth and check for signs of oral cancer.
A chief part of a hygienist’s role is to carry out a ‘scale and polish’ to remove any build-up of plaque and tartar. Plaque is the sticky layer that builds up on our teeth daily and which can harbour harmful bacteria. If allowed to accumulate, it can harden and form tartar, which can add to the vulnerability of the teeth as its rough surface will attract even more plaque. If tartar forms at the gum line, the early stage of gum disease (gingivitis) can occur, which can cause inflammation of the gums. If not treated, this can lead to more serious periodontal disease which can go on to cause tooth loss.
During a ‘scale and polish’, the hygienist uses specially designed implements to remove tartar from the tooth surface and underneath the gum line. When all the surfaces are clean, they polish teeth with a gritty paste, leaving them feeling smooth and silky. If gum disease has progressed beyond the early stages, a hygienist can remove tartar from the root surface to smooth the area and reduce inflammation of the gum tissue. This is known as root planing (or debridement) and, as it involves deeper cleaning under the gum line, it is a procedure that may require an anaesthetic to eliminate any discomfort.
Hygienists also offer helpful hygiene advice and demonstrate how to keep your teeth plaque-free with toothbrushes, interdental brushes and floss. In addition, they provide dietary and smoking cessation advice.
It is a good idea to introduce your children to a hygienist as soon as possible to encourage a relaxed approach to teeth cleaning treatments and so they can learn useful tooth care techniques. Hygienists can also protect young teeth with fissure sealants and fluoride varnishes to help keep decay at bay.
Regularly visiting a hygienist will not only help you maintain healthy teeth and gums, but also protect your overall well-being because poor gum health has been linked to more serious conditions such as heart disease, respiratory infections, diabetes and dementia.