We hear this question quite frequently. It can be confusing to understand the different types of dental cleanings and why one is necessary for some people and not for others. If your dentist refers you to see a periodontist (a gum specialist), that means a “regular” cleaning will not fix your dental problem.
What is a “Regular” Cleaning?
What most patients refer to as a “regular” cleaning is a professional teeth cleaning or prophylaxis in the dental office. Either a licensed dentist or dental hygienist performs this procedure, and it falls under the category of Preventive Dentistry. During a professional teeth cleaning, your dental professional removes all bacterial buildup from your teeth, including soft plaque buildup and hard tartar.
A prophylaxis is a maintenance procedure, used to preserve the health of the teeth and gums. It is NOT a treatment for active disease. If you have active periodontal disease and only undergo “regular” cleanings, your disease will get worse and worse until the teeth loosen and even fall out. Having a “regular” cleaning when you have periodontal disease is the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid on a broken bone.
What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease is an infectious and inflammatory disease affecting the supporting tissues around the teeth. This includes the jawbone, the ligament connecting the teeth to the surrounding bone, and the gums covering the bone. When dental plaque collects on the teeth, the bacteria within produce toxins that penetrate into the gum tissue. These toxins stimulate an inflammatory response by your body.
In the short-term, this inflammation causes gingivitis, which is obvious in its red, swollen gums that bleed easily. Gingivitis is very easy to treat and reverse.
If you do not treat gingivitis, the inflammation in the tissues around the teeth becomes chronic. Chronic inflammation is destructive in nature. It begins breaking down the jawbone and other supportive tissues around a tooth or teeth.
This breakdown often leads to pockets or gaps between the roots of the teeth and the tissues, which should be attached. These pockets become even better collection sites for more and more bacteria. Because the buildup of bacteria is deep underneath the gums, you cannot remove it with a toothbrush and floss. It requires periodontal dental treatment.
What is the Treatment for Periodontal Disease?
There are various stages of periodontal disease, and the necessary treatment depends on the severity of disease. The first step in treating periodontal disease is always removing the bacterial buildup. In order to stop the progression of the disease, you have to remove the initial cause. Your body cannot stop the inflammatory process as long as bacteria continue producing toxins into the tissues.
Because much of this buildup is deep underneath the gums, your dentist or dental hygienist performs a procedure known as scaling and root planing, but most people simply call it a “deep cleaning”. Using specialized tools and local anesthetic, they reach below the gums to clean and smooth the roots of the teeth.
Why Do I Need to See a Periodontist?
A periodontist is an expert in the treatment of periodontal disease. This specialist has advanced training in the various conditions that can affect the gums, ligaments and jawbone. Some patients suffer from health problems that can worsen their gum disease and make it more difficult to treat. Periodontists provide surgical intervention for complicated or severe cases of gum disease. If you have gum disease and want to save your teeth, you should commit to working with a periodontist!
More Questions about Teeth Cleanings?
Contact Empire Dental Specialty Group and make an appointment with our periodontal team. They can answer any question you have about gum disease and the treatments we provide.