The Dental Hygiene Visit: Why We Do What We Do
“Hi, I need to make an appointment; it’s just for a cleaning.” We hear this at our office every day. And that’s a perfectly valid response to something that, quite often, isn’t perceived as all that important. Sure you’ve been told time and again you need to go twice a year to keep your teeth healthy, but do you really know why? Do you know the many things that go into a hygiene visit and why they happen? Let’s take a walk through our office’s typical hygiene visit to see exactly why we do what we do.
Review Medical History: The connection between your oral health and overall health is something we love to hammer home on this blog. Updating your medical history each visit clues us into any changes of which we should be aware. Different medications, surgeries, illnesses, and conditions can all affect the health of your tissues and how we treat you, so don’t be afraid to share even the smallest change.
Blood Pressure: Once we’ve updated your medical history, the hygienist will take your blood pressure using one of our wrist cuffs. There are a couple of motivating factors at work here. First and foremost, if your blood pressure is too high at the time of your visit – specifically if your systolic pressure is above 160 and your diastolic above 100 – it would be unsafe for us to treat you. Those numbers signify stage 2 hypertension, a serious health risk that requires immediate attention from your physician.
Secondly, many of you will wind up coming to see us more often than your doctor (we’re flattered! J). That being said, it’s our responsibility to gauge your overall health at each visit. Taking your blood pressure allows us to help you catch potential problems early and to track your general cardiovascular health over time.
X-rays: We know! No one loves x-rays. They are, however, the only way for us to accurately diagnose and treat you. Read more about why here. Not every hygiene visit will include x-rays; you can expect to take them about once a year.
Hygiene Exam: Before they get into the meat of your dental cleaning, the hygienist needs to do a comprehensive assessment. She’ll examine your glands, teeth, gum tissue and tongue to make sure everything is in order. In the course of this exam, she will also perform a Periodontal Screening and Recording (PSR). This is a less intense version of full periodontal charting and allows the hygienist to quickly assess the health of your gums and their attachment to your teeth. The data she collects in her PSR and exam will inform both your doctor’s exam and the type of cleaning you receive.
Patient Education: What you know and do at home is every bit as important as what we do for you in the office. Going over the results of the hygienist’s exam with you provides us a great opportunity to assist in your homecare with a bit of education.
Every lesson is better with visual aids, so we’ve made it a point to keep the latest technology available to help illustrate things you’re doing well and highlight areas of concern. If the hygienist has found something worth extra attention during her assessment, she may use our intra-oral camera to give you a “tour” of your teeth, so you can see what she sees. She may also employ a disclosing solution, which will color the plaque on your teeth (pink for anything present for fewer than 24 hours, purple for bacteria that have been there longer). This is a great way to bring your attention to areas that may need extra help from you.
From there you two will discuss home care. Your hygienist will ask what you are currently doing to take care of your teeth at home, make suggestions for ideal home care practices, and may even demonstrate some techniques for flossing or brushing.
Scaling and Polish: We’ve made it to the cleaning! Once we’ve got the roadmap for where we’re going and provided no deeper cleaning is necessary, the hygienist will begin the scaling and polishing of your teeth. This removes bacteria, built up plaque and stain, and is exactly the part of the visit you think of when you think dental cleaning.
Doctor Exam: The dentist might come in at any point after your hygienist has given him the okay, so don’t be surprised if we’re not completely done with the cleaning when he pops his head in. This is our way both of avoiding any waiting on your part and allowing the doctor to provide the best, most focused attention to each of his patients. During this exam, the hygienist will fill him in on everything you two have done so far, and ask him to pay specific attention to any areas of concern that have come up during the visit. He will thoroughly assess your teeth, tissue, and glands in the context of the data that has been collected. Once he’s done with this assessment, they’ll sit you up, and you three will discuss all the findings and any recommended restorative treatment, should any exist.
We know it’s hard to make time for the dentist, and chances are when you’re here, you want to be in and out. We want to respect your schedule and get you on your way while providing you with the absolute best care. Hopefully, this helps shine some light on where we spend our time and why it’s important!