As gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in the UK, protecting your smile from the condition is an essential part of your routine dental care. Your gums are the foundation to your smile so their health is crucial to the longevity of your teeth. Good oral hygiene at home will do most of the hard work in preventing gum disease, but visits to the hygienist will treat the condition and halt it in its tracks.
Regularly visiting a hygienist will help you maintain healthy teeth and gums. The cleaner your teeth, the less likely you are to develop gum disease. Hygienists are clinicians trained in assessing, tracking and treating gum disease. Protecting your smile from gum disease isn’t just important for your smile as poor gum health has been linked to more serious conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Gum disease starts as inflammation in the gums caused by bacteria. Plaque deposits contain the bacteria responsible which triggers the immune system, causing the gums to get irritated. This can lead to bleeding gums. This initial stage of gum disease is gingivitis and can be treated at the hygienist chair through removing plaque and tartar from the tooth surfaces, eliminating the cause.
If gingivitis is left untreated, it can lead to periodontitis. At this stage, the bacteria causes the gums to recede. Pockets start to form between the gum and tooth, eventually leading to loosening of the teeth. Unlike the first stage, periodontitis isn’t reversible but can be maintained through periodontal treatments.
During a hygiene appointment, the health of your gums and teeth will be assessed. This will involve looking for any signs of swelling, inflammation or bleeding. The hygienist may also take measurements where the gum attaches to the tooth and check for signs of oral cancer.
One of the main aspects of the hygienist’s role is to carry out a ‘scale and polish’, a thorough clean of the teeth to remove plaque and tartar build-up. Scaling (removing tartar) also makes it easier to keep teeth clean as there is no longer a rough surface to attract more plaque. This deep clean will be finished off with a polish to leave teeth shiny and smooth.
If gum disease has progressed beyond the early stages, a hygienist can remove deep tartar from the root surface. This is known as root planing (or debridement) and, as it involves deeper cleaning under the gum line, the procedure may require an anaesthetic.
Hygienists also offer helpful hygiene advice and demonstrate how to keep your teeth clean and plaque-free with toothbrushes, interdental brushes and floss.
For younger patients, hygienists can apply fluoride varnishes to strengthen enamel or fissure sealants, which provide a protective barrier to stop bacteria settling in the narrow fissures of the back teeth. These treatments offer a protective measure for young teeth when they first start to emerge.