What Is Dental Prophylaxis?

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Can I reschedule my dental appointment? I need a haircut and my stylist can only get me in at that same time. I mean, it's just a cleaning, right?

Dental prophylaxis is one of the most misunderstood, but most beneficial, pieces to the entire dental care puzzle. Patients often do not realize the overall benefits of routine prophylaxis for oral and total body health. Once patients realize that "just a cleaning" may prevent systemic and oral disease, their opinion of the prophylaxis procedure will likely change.

What Is Dental Prophylaxis?

Prophylaxis is a broad medical term used to describe an action taken to prevent disease. Dental prophylaxis is a procedure that removes bacterial biofilm and biotoxins caused by remaining food particles in the mouth, preventing diseases such as gum and periodontal disease and dental decay. A professional preventive dental appointment is much more than a cleaning. During this appointment, a trained dental professional removes food debris, bacteria plaque, tartar (calcified dental plaque) and extrinsic stain on the teeth. For these procedures, clinicians often use dental hand instruments like scalers and curets as well as ultrasonic instrumentation that is powered by concentrated air and water streams, and polishing modalities to remove stain and any remaining plaque on the teeth.

The dental clinician also completes an oral cancer screening, identifies other systemic issues that may by evident through oral manifestations, such as inflammation in the gum tissue stemming from uncontrolled blood sugar in diabetic patients. The effectiveness of the patient's at-home oral care routine is also assessed.

Who Conducts Dental Prophylaxis?

A licensed dentist or dental hygienist is qualified to complete a dental prophylaxis. Portions of the prophylaxis may be delegated to a dental assistant, though this varies from state to state, according to the Academy of General Dentistry. Ultimately, patients should seek care from licensed professionals who have proven competency through regional and state examinations.

How Often Should Patients Receive Preventive Care?

The dentist or dental hygienist conducts a risk assessment for the patient at their initial appointment. At this time they determine the increments, usually in months, between preventive dental care visits. The American Dental Association outlines some risk factors that determine how often patients should schedule cleanings. Reasons include a history of dental disease, genetic factors, current dental habits, such as how often a patient brushes and flosses, and any current treatments being completed in the mouth, such as restorative dental work or braces.

Recommendations During the Preventive Appointment

It is customary for a dentist or dental hygienist to dedicate a portion of the prophylaxis appointment to talk to the patient and make recommendations on how they can improve their oral health at home. These recommendations may include brushing twice daily, flossing and swishing with a mouthwash like Colgate Total Advanced Health Mouthwash. It removes 24 times more bacteria for a healthier mouth, reduces plaque and freshens breath.