Why are there so many different names for a dental ‘cleanings’?

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Prophylaxis, Perio Prophy, Fine Scale, Root Plane & Scale, Periodontal Debridement

Why are there so many different names for a dental ‘cleanings’?


Many patients call and are interested in scheduling an appointment for a dental cleaning. By definition a dental ‘cleaning’ or dental prophylaxis is a preventive procedure. It’s a visit during which we monitor, examine, review dental concerns and our hygienist cleans and polishes your teeth. However, there are times when needed care is not preventive in nature. At times this can be confusing as there is different terminology based on our patient’s needs and the care provided.

A routine cleaning entails the removal of minor calculus build-up, a review of home health care techniques, taking any needed diagnostic x-rays and an evaluation of any areas of concern. The prophy as it’s often called, is done when the teeth, gums and supporting bone are in good health.  When the patient remains in dental health with good home healthcare and does not exhibit dental disease, the procedure can be completed in one appointment and is typically scheduled every four to six months.

If, however, there is periodontal (gum) disease or the patient has not had a prophy in some time, the treatment needed is not considered preventive. Dependent upon the nature of the disease process, different types of services, provided by the hygienist, are recommended. One such procedure that takes two visits is a scale in the presence of inflammation also called a periodontal debridement. This is typically suggested when the patient’s gums are not pink and firm, exhibiting early signs of periodontal disease, or if there is excessive build up of plaque.  On the first visit the plaque is removed. A fine scale on the second visit allows the hygienist to check the response of the gum tissue and polish the teeth.

Should the disease process be more advanced and the gums and bone exhibit periodontal disease, a non-surgical intervention may be recommended. This procedure, called a root plane & scale often alleviates the need for more extensive periodontal surgery at a later date. The patient is given a local anesthetic to allow our hygienist to thoroughly clean under the gum line while also cleaning tooth structure above the gum line. Depending on the area(s) of concern this may be done in only one quarter (quadrant, i.e. upper right) or throughout. The gum tissue is monitored every two to four months to ensure that the patient’s dental health has improved. Patients returning for follow-up hygiene visits after periodontal therapy are scheduled for a periodontal prophylaxis.

So, although your spouse, significant other, friend or child may see the same hygienist as you, often times the care provided is termed differently due to differing diagnosis. If you have any questions about your particular dental hygiene appointment, please feel free to ask. After all, we are here to meet your individual needs … as unique as you are.

April 2015



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