Dental hygienists are specially trained members of the dental team who work together with your dentist to provide fully integrated dental care. They play an important role in dental health, preventing dental disease by providing individual oral hygiene care and instruction to patients.
Hygienists perform four main functions:
The sticky film that constantly forms on your teeth is called plaque, and is made mostly of bacteria. Some of these bacteria produce by-products (called toxins or enzymes) that can irritate the tissues that support your teeth. These by-products can damage the attachment of the gums, periodontal ligament, and bone of your teeth.
You can remove plaque with good oral hygiene – brushing your teeth twice a day and cleaning between them once a day with floss or another interdental cleaner. When plaque is not removed through good oral hygiene, it builds up along the gum line and increases your risk of developing periodontal disease.
Plaque that is not removed regularly can harden into rough porous deposit called calculus or tartar. Tartar itself does not seem to cause disease, but it may make it more difficult for you to remove plaque, so it should be removed regularly. Tartar only can be removed when your teeth are professionally cleaned in the dental office.
It is possible to have periodontal disease and have no warning signs. That is one reason why regular dental check-ups and periodontal examination are very important.
However, several warning signs can signal that you have a problem with periodontal disease. If you notice any of the following, see your dentist:
In the treatment of both adults and children the hygienist together with the dentist will examine the mouth and develop an individual course of treatment. Both adults and children can benefit from having their teeth cleaned and polished. They are taught how dental disease occurs and how it can be prevented. The hygienist cleans teeth by removing calculus (tartar) and staining. The hygienist will also apply fluoride gels and solutions to help prevent decay as well as preventative sealants (fissure sealants) to the permanent back teeth if needed.
Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissue that supports your teeth. Your gum tissue is not attached to your teeth as high as it may seem—there is a very shallow v-shape crevice called a sulcus between the tooth and gums.
Periodontal disease attacks just below the gum line in the sulcus, where they cause the attachment of the tooth and its supporting tissue to break down. As the tissues are damaged, the sulcus develops into a pocket. Generally, the more severe the disease, the greater the depth of the pocket.
Periodontal diseases are classified according to the severity of the disease. The two major stages of the disease are gingivitis and periodontitis.
Gingivitis is a milder and reversible form of periodontal disease that only affects the gums. It develops as toxins in plaque irritate gums, making them red, tender, swollen, and likely to bleed easily. It can usually be eliminated by daily brushing, cleaning between your teeth, and regular dental cleaning.
Gingivitis may lead to more serious, destructive form of periodontal disease, called periodontitis. There are several forms of periodontitis, with the most common being chronic adult periodontitis.
Periodontitis occurs when toxins, enzymes, and other plaque byproducts destroy the tissue that anchors the teeth into the bone. The gum line recedes, which can expose the tooth’s root. Exposed roots can become susceptible to decay and sensitive to cold and touch.
As we mentioned earlier, the sulcus deepens into a pocket in the early stages of periodontal disease. Plaque that collects in these pockets can be difficult to remove during regular brushing and interdental cleaning. By-products from the plaque that collect in these pockets can continue to damage the gum, periodontal ligament and bone. In some cases, so much ligament and bone are destroyed that the tooth becomes loose. Usually, your dentist can still treat the disease at this point. In the worst of cases, a loose tooth may need to be extracted or may fall out on its own.
Daily good oral hygiene can help reduce your risk of developing periodontal disease.
Brushing your teeth twice a day. With proper brushing, you can remove plaque from the inner, outer and chewing surfaces of each tooth. Your dentist or dental hygienist can show you a proper brushing technique.
Using a fluoride-containing toothpaste can also help protect your teeth against cavities.
Carefully clean between your teeth once a day with dental floss or another interdental cleaner to remove plaque from areas your toothbrush can’t reach. It only takes a few minutes each day and it’s just as important in maintaining oral health as brushing your teeth.
If you need extra help controlling gingivitis and plaque that forms above the gum line, your dentist may recommend using an ADA- accepted antimicrobial mouth rinse or other oral hygiene aids as an effective addition to your daily oral hygiene routine.
When choosing dental care products, look for those that display the Australian Dental Association’s seal of acceptance- this is your assurance that they have met ADA standards of safety and effectiveness.
Gum disease destroys the periodontal ligament which attaches the tooth to its supporting bone. Periodontal treatment aims at preventing or at least slowing this destruction. Periodontal disease has been linked to a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and other general health issues. Prevention is the best philosophy but once periodontal disease is present intervention is required.
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