1205 SE Professional Mall Blvd., Suite #202
Pullman, WA 99163
Phone: 509-332-8084          Fax: 509-332-6380

TEETH CLEANINGS


Everybody loves clean teeth! We certainly do! But rather than showing re-touched images of ad agency models, what I really want to present on this page is helpful information and answers to frequently asked questions. Here are some of our most common questions:

- OTHER THAN “WHITE TEETH” WHAT ARE THE GOALS OF REGULAR PROFESSIONAL CLEANINGS?

   Clean, white, esthetically pleasing teeth are important, but the tooth surfaces under the gum line and between the teeth…those hard to reach areas…are where most dental problems occur. Cavities commonly occur where two adjacent teeth contact each other, or on root areas under the gumline where there is no protective enamel layer. Periodontal disease is caused by bacteria under the gum tissue collar around each tooth, and is the primary cause of halitosis (bad breath) and tooth loss. Even patients who are meticulous about their dental homecare find that there are some areas that they simply cannot clean effectively with brushing and flossing alone. Regular teeth cleanings at Pullman Dental Care will not only keep your teeth looking their best, but also help prevent cavities and periodontal disease.

- WHAT IS PERIODONTAL DISEASE, AND WHY SHOULD WE BE CONCERNED ABOUT IT?

    When teeth are not regularly and effectively cleaned beneath the gum tissue, the accumulation of germs and their byproducts will coat and even penetrate into the root surfaces. The surrounding gum tissue then mounts an immune and inflammatory response in an attempt to remove the “foreign invaders”. Unfortunately, since the germs are stuck to your teeth, your body will ultimately get rid of your teeth too! This process is called periodontal disease, which means “disease around the teeth”. As this relatively painless process progresses, the gum tissue and bone that supports the teeth is broken down, causing bleeding gums, increased tooth mobility, and eventually tooth loss. 

   Removal of germs with proper flossing is one of the best methods to prevent periodontal disease. However, some people avoid flossing because their gums bleed, without realizing that bleeding gums are an early sign of periodontal disease. It’s important to understand that healthy gums don’t bleed when properly flossed. It’s also important to understand that once the supporting gum and bone tissue is lost around the teeth, it’s almost impossible to get it back, so prevention of periodontal disease is much better than any “cure” currently available. If you already have periodontal disease, regular professional cleanings become even more important, since your ability to reach the affected areas with normal brushing and flossing decreases as periodontal disease increases.

   There is some good news:  In most cases, a customized plan of periodontal treatment at Pullman Dental Care along with good patient compliance can stop the progression of periodontal disease. In other good news, there are new techniques, like LANAP (Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure…this is not your typical soft-tissue dental laser!), which are showing great promise for regenerating some of the tissue which has been lost to periodontal disease.

- HOW DO DENTAL INSURANCE PROCESSING POLICIES AFFECT COVERAGE AND OUT-OF-POCKET COSTS FOR REGULAR PROFESSIONAL CLEANINGS?

   Most dental insurance plans recognize the financial benefit of preventive care and cover a regular dental cleaning (i.e. a prophylaxis) at 100%. Some plans will even penalize patients by decreasing their benefit for other services if they do not get their teeth cleaned regularly. When submitting your cleaning appointment charges to your dental insurance, however, things get complicated. The problem is that not all patients require the same care in order to clean their teeth, and, there are several different procedure codes used by insurance companies to identify which type of cleaning you had. If you require only a small amount of under-the-gum cleaning and mostly need removal of light plaque and stain, your procedure will be billed to insurance as a ‘prophylaxis’, which is considered “preventive care” and is usually paid at 100%. On the other hand, if you have a heavy buildup of calculus (bacterial deposits which have hardened onto the teeth), your procedure will cost more, not only because of the increased time involved to clean your teeth, but also because the procedure must be billed to insurance using the “periodontal therapy” codes like “scaling and root planning” which most insurance plans cover at a lower percentage, often requiring that you meet your out-of-pocket deductible before they cover anything. These insurance company policies essentially create two very different reimbursement rates for two relatively similar procedures (i.e. teeth cleanings). Now for some good news…with proper documentation and preauthorization, many dental insurance plans will allow periodontal therapy maintenance visits at the “preventive care” or 100% rates and may even qualify periodontal patients for more frequent professional cleanings, provided patients don’t postpone their cleaning appointment so long that their dental cleaning needs exceed the maintenance level.

Confused yet? As you can see, your out-of-pocket expense for your regular professional teeth cleaning appointments can vary considerably depending on how your insurance plan processes the different procedure codes as well as how well you take care of your teeth. As confusing as all of this information is, the take home message is clear: If you want what’s best for your teeth and what’s best for your pocketbook, BRUSH, FLOSS, and SCHEDULE YOUR CLEANING APPOINTMENTS.  

- HOW DO CHILDREN’S TEETH CLEANING APPOINTMENTS DIFFER FROM ADULT’S APPOINTMENTS?

   For your child’s cleaning appointment, we use a colored dye to show them the plaque on their teeth, and while they can see the plaque, we teach them proper brushing and flossing techniques. Typically children require very little calculus removal, so much of a child’s teeth cleaning appointment is devoted to patient education. We recommend that our young patients also receive a fluoride treatment (with parental consent) at their cleaning appointment to help prevent cavities. Please let us know if your child is receiving orthodontic treatment involving fixed wires and brackets, since we want to allow extra time for their cleaning appointment.  

   Our adult patients usually have more established home care skills, so the red dye is only used in specific instances. Generally, adult patients are more likely to have periodontal concerns, so periodontal pockets must be documented and monitored. The majority of our adult patients just require dental prophylaxis, which is easily accomplished at their examination appointment. For patents on a periodontal maintenance program, we will schedule additional time, and for patients with uncontrolled periodontal disease, we may even schedule more than one appointment to complete care. Whatever your teeth cleaning needs, we will make sure that you are comfortable, and all of your questions have been answered.

- HOW OFTEN SHOULD PATIENTS GET THEIR TEETH CLEANED PROFESSIONALLY?

   We recommend that children get their teeth cleaned every six months. For our adult patients, we may recommend cleanings as frequently as every three months or as little as one time per year, depending on your specific needs. We also will adjust our recommendations to accommodate a patient’s changing needs.

- WHAT CAN BE DONE TO RETAIN THAT CLEAN FEELING AND SHINY WHITE APPEARANCE AFTER A PROFESSIONAL TEETH CLEANING APPOINTMENT?  

To keep that dental office clean feeling and appearance, brushing and flossing, preferably after every meal, are your best tools. Always make sure you floss before bedtime and avoid snacks or sugary beverages (including milk) after your evening flossing. Most patients over brush and under floss (or even skip flossing); so if you are one of those people, try flossing first. If I had to choose between brushing or flossing as the better way to take care of your teeth, I’d choose flossing. Avoid sugar, especially sugar containing beverages. Also coffee and tea will greatly accelerate the buildup of plaque, calculus, and stain. So, if you do consume these beverages, drink them quickly. If you sip on a tall latte all morning long, you will do more damage to your teeth than if you just chugged it down. Finally, avoid tobacco! It’s bad for your teeth, gums, and your health. In between your dental cleaning appointments, if you want to whiten your teeth with over-the-counter products, please check with us first. Many of these products are OK, but there are some things you should know first in order to use these products safely. Please check out our page on Teeth Whitening.

I hope you found this information helpful. Still have questions? Use the “Contact Us” tab to drop us a note, and I’ll be happy to provide an answer.

 

Keep Smiling!

 

John S. McInturff, DDS