Even when we are brushing twice a day for two minutes, it is easy to miss areas and for problems to slowly develop. Throughout the day, bacteria form little colonies on our teeth, something that we call plaque. If this plaque is not cleaned away effectively twice a day, then it can release acids that start to eat away at the hard enamel surface of our teeth and this is how dental caries, also known as tooth decay, can develop. This is most likely to occur in the less thought about areas of the teeth, especially between the teeth where a normal toothbrush cannot reach. A dental hygienist can highlight the areas that you are frequently missing and offer tailored advice for individuals about how to clean these areas effectively.
Dental plaque also loves to sit at the boundary between our teeth and gums – an area that is less easy to clean unless specifically targeted when brushing. If the plaque sits at these margins it can cause your gums to redden, swell and bleed when touched. This is called gingivitis and is a reversible form of gum disease. A hygienist can help you with your oral hygiene to reverse gingivitis and help to prevent it from recurring. If gingivitis is left unnoticed or unmanaged, then it can lead to a more severe form of gum disease called periodontitis. This causes irreversible damage to the tissues that support the teeth which can lead to gums receding, gum infections, teeth becoming wobbly and can ultimately lead to premature tooth loss.
A dental hygienist appointment will normally involve an assessment of your oral hygiene and gum health, which leads to tailored advice for each individual’s oral health. It will also involve the cleaning of your teeth with specially designed instruments to remove hardened plaque and calculus that cannot be removed by your toothbrush at home.
The hygienist can also provide treatment for periodontal disease which may involve taking x-rays (radiographs) to aid diagnosis and taking special measurements of your teeth and gums. They are also able to administer local anaesthetic and targeted antimicrobial therapy.
A dental therapist can administer a wider range of treatments than a dental hygienist, often after you have seen your dentist for a check-up. They often have the same training as dentists for these procedures, so rest assured you are in good hands! Their scope of practice includes, but is not limited to, all the treatments a hygienist can provide as well as restorations (fillings), and fissure sealants. For primary (children’s) teeth, they can also complete extractions and fit preformed metal crowns.
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