A good friend of mine asked me this question just the other day. It’s worth writing about because he voiced the same question that many think but don’t express. Quite frankly, this is not an unreasonable question because unless you’re in the dental profession, most people don’t understand the skills that are involved a professional dental “cleaning” and that they are necessary to treat and prevent site-specific dental disease.
Dentists, dental hygienists, television, radio, and the internet are doing a terrific job at educating the public about the importance of good home dental hygiene. Almost all of our patients today know what a toothbrush is, have at least heard that soft brushes are best, have entertained the thought of purchasing an electric toothbrush, and have a working knowledge of many of the commercially available toothpastes and mouthwashes on the market! This is in stark contrast to dentistry of 20 years ago or so when many people did not know that they need to brush at least once daily. Despite this overwhelming education of the lay public, the media does a relatively poor job of describing the importance of professional dental hygiene visits in removing the bacteria and tartar that can’t be seen in the bathroom mirror and in identifying obstacles to proper home hygiene practices.
Dental plaque is comprised of secretions from the normal flora of the mouth that is necessary for healthy digestion of food. It develops daily and clings to rough areas of teeth, around restoration margins, and between the roots of susceptible teeth. Plaque is the culprit in the development of inflammation of the gums and tooth decay. Since plaque is very tenacious and sticky, it cannot be removed without mechanical debridement. Proper toothbrushing does an adequate job of removing plaque from easily accessible areas, and efficient thorough flossing can provide reasonable plaque removal in between the teeth. The problem is that nobody, including even dentists, brushes, and flosses perfectly on a routine basis. In fact, we see some bleeding points on routine exams in even the best and most compliant hygiene patients.