Why would you visit the hygienist when you can clean your teeth yourself at home?
It is true to say that lots of people can clean their teeth perfectly well at home, but many also have problems of access, tricky nooks and crannies or dexterity issues, or a susceptibility to building plaque rather efficiently! And let’s face it – there is that human condition that prevents the majority of us from keeping up regular oral hygiene habits such as flossing! Some people can get away with it to an extent whilst others definitely do not. There is not a toothbrush on the market that will clean efficiently between teeth without the need for inter dental aids as well.
A visit to a hygienist can range from something as straight forward as cleaning the teeth thoroughly by hand or/and an ultra sonic machine (I work with patient preference on this) – irritant plaque and calculus are removed so that the gums remain at their optimum state of health. Any stains that the patient may be aware of can be removed too. Then there is the treatment and maintenance of gum disease which if left untreated can lead to the loss of the teeth. The supporting structures, i.e. bone, ligament and gum can break down gradually and quite painlessly undetected if not checked right to the point of tooth loss. Even looking at the gums does not always give the game away – it can go on hidden underneath!
We are all individuals, and as such, susceptibility to this breakdown (gum disease) can vary considerably. I have seen patients who have not been for a check up for many years with relatively little to do. Others have been very surprised and shocked to find out that there was more going on than they realised in spite of having no problem to report. Our differences mean that the constituents of plaque can vary too with the more harmful species of bacteria residing in many cases.
Patients may present with bleeding gums which can often indicate a problem – but this may not be anything other than a superficial issue, others will not necessarily be aware of bleeding, and yet a problem exists.
There is a growing body of research indicating links between the state of the gums and wider health issues such as heart and circulatory disease, stroke and diabetes to name a few.
The bottom line is that it would be good for someone to take a look. A dentist or hygienist can use a special probe and if necessary radiographs which indicate whether there is disease present or not.
Hygienists are trained to identify problem areas, to remove the irritant plaque and plaque retaining calculus (tartar) along with advice on how you might maintain these areas at home. Subsequent visits are recommended for the more susceptible (if wished), to monitor progress and maintain a healthy mouth as plaque is continually and rapidly growing.
In May 2013, direct access to visiting hygienists became lawful. What this means is that as long as the hygienist is comfortable with providing direct access, the public can now book appointments with him/her without referral from a dentist. This will suit people who may wish to see a hygienist for a spruce up before a special occasion, or may not wish to have a check up at this time. It is not necessary to be a member of the practice to come and see the hygienist.
If a patient perceives that their mouths may be in a poor condition and feel too ashamed to go, we are not in the business of judgement – in my humble opinion for what it is worth, life leads us down many paths and along some of them the teeth may suffer. I get an enormous amount of pleasure seeing the before and after results, and how much better a patient may feel for coming along.
Frightened it may hurt? Nervous? There are lots of ways to improve oral health which do not need to be painful. My approach is very gentle and mindful of whom I am treating. In other words, my treatment changes to the needs of the patient. No one has to suffer a standard approach. The fact is, if the patient jumps, then I’m right up on the ceiling with them!
Kay Gillam CEB Cert DH, LHMC Cert DT, Dip.DHE (RSH), FAETC
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