At the first dental cleaning appointment, the dental hygienist will remove all plaque and calculus (tartar) from your teeth and take measurements of gum tissue to check the gum health and bone health. Dental x-rays may be taken to check for cavities or infections, evaluate the health of the bone, and check for possible concerns such as cysts or cancers. The dentist will check the x-rays, complete an oral cancer screening, and examine the teeth and gums. If further treatment is recommended, a custom treatment plan will be created.
A dental cleaning is recommended at a minimum of twice yearly (every 6 months). Some people build plaque and calculus (tartar) at a faster rate than others, and need cleanings 3 times or even 4 times per year to keep their gums healthy.
When plaque is left on the tooth, enzymes in the saliva mineralize (harden) the plaque into calculus (tartar). Once it hardens, it can no longer be removed by a toothbrush or floss. It needs to be professionally removed with a scaler or curette. If the calculus is left in place and not removed and then moves to your gums, it is like having a pebble in your shoe that you walk on all day, every day. As you chew and talk, your gum is rubbing against that hardened “pebble-like” calculus, and it irritates the gum. This can make your gums red and swollen, or cause them to bleed when brushing or flossing. This is called gingivitis.
If this continues over a long period of time, the inflamed and swollen gums put pressure on the bone, and it begins to give way. Loss of bone around the teeth can cause receding gums, loose teeth, and eventually teeth can fall out or need to be removed.