Prophylaxis is more commonly known as cleaning of the teeth. This procedure involves the gentle yet thorough removal of all plaque and debris found around the teeth. Plaque is a sticky layer of bacteria that builds up on the teeth and leads to periodontal disease and tooth decay if not thoroughly removed. The dental hygienist often uses hand instruments to remove small amounts of calculus or tartar which may be on the teeth. Calculus or tartar is a hard deposit that forms on the tooth root if the plaque layer is not removed by daily toothbrushing. After removal of any hard deposits, the hygienist uses a small rubber cup to polish the teeth with a special fluoride containing polishing paste.
Prophylaxis is not a substitute for more advanced periodontal procedures like scaling and root planing. If you notice gums that bleed, gums that are red or swollen or tender, gums that have pulled away from teeth, pus between the gums and teeth when the gums are pressed, loose or separating teeth, or persistent bad breath, you may already have periodontal disease. Periodontal disease involves inflammation of the gums and loss of bone around the roots of teeth. It is usually painless at first, but as it progresses problems like gum infections and loose teeth become more and more common. Left untreated, periodontal disease leads to tooth loss. Simple dental prophylaxis is not appropriate treatment for periodontal disease. You should consult your dentist and dental hygienist if you think you might have any of the signs of periodontal disease. They can advise you on the status of your gums and any treatment that might be needed.