Supportive periodontal care (scale and polish)

What is scaling?

Scaling is the removal of hard deposits from the surfaces of the teeth. Scaling is carried out by a dentist, dental therapist or hygienist.

Plaque is a soft, sticky substance that builds up on your teeth. It is mostly made up of bacteria.

The bacteria in plaque feed on sugar from food and drink, producing acids as a waste product. The acids attack the teeth by dissolving the minerals in the tooth surface. If this happens too often, tooth decay results.

And, if plaque is allowed to build up, the bacteria in it can cause gum disease, making your gums sore and infected.

Tartar (also known as ‘calculus’), formed by hardened plaque, helps plaque to gather and makes it harder to remove when you brush. You can’t remove tartar just by brushing your teeth, but a dentist, dental therapist or hygienist can remove it using special instruments – this is known as scaling.

What is polishing?

A dentist, dental therapist or hygienist can also polish your teeth. This removes stains from coffee, tea, cigarettes or red wine; and it makes it more difficult for plaque to stick to your teeth.

If you clean your teeth very thoroughly at home, your scale and polish treatment will take less time.

What happens?

Dentists, dental therapists and hygienists use two types of precision instrument for scaling:

• Hand precision instruments are made of metal and come in different sizes and shapes, to reach different parts of the teeth. This is why you will see the dentist, dental therapist or hygienist changing instruments quite often.

• Sonic/ultrasonic precision instruments use a tip that vibrates very fast in a stream of water. The water is removed from your mouth using a small suction device. A hand precision instrument is also used along with a sonic/ultrasonic instrument, to check whether the teeth are completely clean.

For polishing, your dentist, dental therapist or hygienist will use a rotating brush or rubber polisher with a special toothpaste.

If you have periodontal disease, it may be necessary to carry out deep scaling (periodontal treatment) to clean root surfaces below the level of the gum. You may need a local anaesthetic prior to periodontal treatment.

Your dentist, dental therapist or hygienist will also tell you about the best way to clean your teeth and gums thoroughly at home.

Periodontal (gum) diseases

What are they?

The simplest form of gum disease, gingivitis, is often a reaction to a build up of plaque on the junction of the gum and the teeth. Plaque is a soft, sticky film of bacteria, which grow on the warm, moist surface of the mouth. Plaque builds up in difficult to clean areas, especially below the contact areas between teeth. It is important to clean these areas daily with interdental brushes or dental floss.

The earliest sign of disease is bleeding of the gums. They may also look red or swollen. Gingivitis can often be cured simply with good mouth hygiene- brushing twice a day, together with interdental cleaning, as advised by a dental healthcare professional, and the use of clinically proven mouthwash. If your gums become infected or sore and you notice an unpleasant metallic taste, this is acute gingivitis and you should seek urgent treatment.

As gum disease progresses the tissues holding teeth in place start to break down and pockets (gaps) develop between gum and teeth. This allows even more plaque to gather. This stage is called chronic periodontitis. It is usually painless and can become quite severe if not treated resulting in teeth becoming loose, appearing to move position or eventually to fall out.

Symptoms to watch out for are:

  • bleeding gums
  • gums that have come away from teeth
  • pus between the teeth and gums
  • persistent bad breath or a bad taste
  • Permanent teeth that are loose or are changing position

Scaling and polishing by a dentist or hygienist can remove tartar and stains. This will help you to remove the plaque efficiently.

In more severe cases of gum disease, deep cleaning below the gumline by a dentist or hygienist may be neccesary. Occasionally surgery is required in which the gum is reshaped under local anaesthetic tro allow affected areas to be treated or cleaned.

If gum disease has progressed too far, the tooth or teeth involved may have to be removed.

Who gets gum disease?

Gum disease can start when you are a child, but chronic periodontitis is normally only a problem in adults.

Some people are more likely to have periodontal disease than others:

  • smoking makes gum disease considerably worse. Quitting smoking is important for your general and mouth health
  • diabetes and some other diseases reduce people’s resistance to gum disease. People who have these conditions need to be especially careful about their mouth hygiene
  • certain drugs and medicines can affect your gums: ask your dentist about these
  • crooked teeth are more difficult to keep clean, so the gums supporting such teeth might be more prone to gum disease
  • existing gum disease can be worsened by hormonal changes, due to pregnancy or oral contraceptives (‘the pill’). Here again, good hygiene is important
  • eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables helps resist gum disease
  • untreated gum disease can adversely affect your general health and wellbeing

Speak to your local Clear Dental Practice to learn more.