Everyone loves the way their mouth feels so fresh and their teeth look so much brighter after a good dental cleaning. Of course, a dental cleaning isn’t just a way of making you feel good and look great. It’s actually one of the most effective ways of treating, and preventing, periodontal (gum) disease. Studies indicate, too, that there’s a link between your oral health and your general well-being – in other words, having your teeth cleaned regularly can benefit your entire body, not just your mouth.
So why do your teeth need cleaning over and above daily brushing and flossing? It’s because over time, stains and dental plaque can accumulate on the surfaces of your teeth. Tartar (also called dental calculus) can also form, both in visible areas and under the gum line where it can’t be seen. You can’t remove these undesirable substances just by brushing and flossing, so you need a professional cleaning to get rid of them – that way, the bacteria that can cause gum disease are prevented from proliferating.
Usually, a professional cleaning is done using a technique called “scaling.” It’s a non-invasive, usually painless method of using small dental instruments to remove undesirable deposits from the surfaces of your teeth. In years gone by, scaling used to be done using manual tools exclusively. Over the past few decades, though, more and more dental practitioners are using ultrasonic scalers to achieve the desired result.
What are Ultrasonic Scalers?
Although there are different kinds of ultrasonic scalers, they all work in basically the same way – a wand with a tiny tip is used to transmit electromagnetic forces that make the tip vibrate even faster than the speed of sound. Those vibrations blast the calculus, plaque and stains away from the surfaces of your teeth.
An antibacterial mouthwash, or even just plain water, will also be used, in a process known as lavage – this emerges from the tip of the wand. It serves two purposes, cooling the tip of the ultrasonic scaler, and also flushing the debris away from your teeth. The vibration in the tip creates millions of little bubbles. This is called cavitation, and it breaks up the walls of the bacteria cells, creating an environment where undesirable bacteria are unable to flourish.
Is Ultrasonic Scaling Better than Hand Scaling?
Ultrasonic scaling is very much better than hand scaling in that it takes considerably less time than hand scaling – about a third as much less time, in fact. It’s also gentler – the practitioner doesn’t have to use nearly as much force as with the hand scaler in order to achieve the same result. Also, with ultrasonic scaling, only the tip of the wand makes contact with the surface of your teeth, and not for very long.
Additionally, with ultrasonic scaling, tartar and plaque deposits can be removed from under the gum line using a tip that’s much smaller than a hand scaler – it delivers a better, deeper cleaning, with considerably less discomfort. When plaque and tartar deposits are particularly stubborn, an electronic scaler may be used first, and then followed with a hand scaler.
If you have a significant buildup of plaque or tartar, or extensive staining, or you’re especially prone to gum disease, then you should definitely consider electronic scaling. Smokers and coffee drinkers in particular can benefit from electronic scaling. It’s very powerful, and yet most people find that they experience only minimal discomfort, or none at all.
If your teeth are particularly sensitive, let us know before we begin the procedure. We can almost certainly alleviate the discomfort by using slimmer tips than those usually employed. We can also use a topical anesthetic, or even administer nitrous oxide (conscious sedation). We can also adjust the frequency of the vibration, the level of power, and the degree of lavage in order to ensure your comfort during the cleaning.
Patients who have porcelain or composite tooth restorations, demineralized areas (enamel loss) or titanium implants can also benefit from the use of special tips. And if you have a pacemaker, we’ll need to know before we begin ultrasonic scaling so that we can take any precautions that might be necessary.
Text Copyright © 2015 Louis K. Cheung DDS PS – All rights reserved. Images used under license from Dear Doctor, Inc.