Dental Hygiene Terms

Prophylaxis is also known as a “cleaning” or prophy. A prophylaxis removes plaque, calculus and stains on the tooth surface. A routine prophy is preformed on patients that have relative healthy tissues or early gingivitis. A Teeth Cleaning is often recommended every 6 months.

Root Planing is also known as a deep cleaning or deep scaling. Scaling and root planing is a procedure for treating periodontal disease when the gum pockets are greater than 3mm. Local anesthetic is used for patient comfort during the long, meticulous appointments. Scaling is focused below the gum line on the root surfaces to remove the hard, rough calculus. A glassy smooth, planed root surface promotes healing. After root planing is complete, 3 month periodontal maintenance appointments are scheduled with the dental hygiene department. Patient compliance is the key to success. Daily plaque removal is essential.

Periodontal maintenance appointments are more that “just a cleaning.” These 3 month appointments involve scaling not only on the tooth surface but primarily below the gum line into the pockets and on the root surfaces. Studies have shown that plaque that is undisturbed in the base of a gum pocket becomes destructive enough to destroy more bone after only 90 days. Since there is no cure for periodontal disease, continual life-long 3 month appointments, along with excellent home care are essential. Patient compliance is the key to success.

DEBRIDEMENTA debridement is needed to remove heavy plaque and tartar (calculus) build-up that have formed over long periods of time. Multiple appointments are required to complete treatment. Debridements are beneficial for patients who have severe gingivitis, established gum disease, or have not visited the dentist for a long time. Often an ultrasonic scaler is used to remove a majority of the calculus and to promote an initial phase of healing.

Periodontal probing is also known as pocket measurements. Periodontal probing measures the depth of the space between the teeth and the gums. A normal depth measures 1-3mm. Early gingivitis measures 4mm. Any pocket measurement 5mm or greater indicates bone loss, periodontal disease. The depths of the pockets determine what types of appointments are needed for treatment and follow up care.

Gingivitis is the most mild form of periodontal disease. Gingivitis is a superficial infection in the gum tissue only (the infection is not in the ligaments or bone.) Gingivitis is reversible. The cure for gingivitis involves professional cleanings and good brushing and flossing habits. Gingivitis, left untreated, advances to periodontal disease and bone loss.

PERIODONTAL DISEASEPeriodontal disease is also known as gum disease, periodontitis or perio. Periodontal literally means “around the tooth.” The tissues affected by periodontal disease include the gum tissues, ligaments and bone that supports the teeth. Periodontal disease is often painless and advanced bone loss is often present without symptoms. Periodontitis is an infection created by plaque and calculus. When the tissues and bone are damaged and destroyed, gum pockets develop which harbor bacteria deep under the gum line. Once periodontal disease is established, there is no cure, it is a life-long problem. Periodontal disease is a progressive disease. Periodontal treatments help to maintain existing structures. Periodontal disease may eventually lead to tooth loss.

Calculus is the hard porous mineralized deposits that are formed by the combination of the soft bacterial plaque and the minerals in saliva. Calculus holds bacteria and toxins which are impossible to remove with brushing. Once the calculus has formed, it can only be removed when teeth are cleaned professionally at the dental office.

Plaque is the soft sticky bacteria that constantly forms in the mouth, regardless of what type of food is eaten. Plaque clings to the teeth and gums. Plaque produces toxins that irritate the gums and cause infection. Plaque can easily be brushed and flossed away. When plaque is not completely removed each day, it will harden into a rough porous deposit called calculus.