Ask the Experts – isn’t a cleaning just a cleaning?

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Most patients know that the typical cleaning occurs every six months. However, depending on the health of the teeth and gums, and if a long time has passed since the last cleaning, a regular cleaning may not be enough. There are cleanings that are preventive in nature (prophylaxis, periodontal maintenance) and others that treat disease (scaling and root planing, debridement). Here we’ll explore the other types of cleanings which may be necessary.

What happens in the mouth in between cleanings?

Over 300 types of bacteria live in our mouths, some good and some bad. Some cause cavities and some cause gum disease or periodontal disease. When bacteria combine with food residue and other substances in our mouths, a white substance called plaque forms. If plaque isn’t removed by brushing or flossing, it calcifies into a hard substance called tartar, or calculus. Calculus causes bleeding and inflammation of the gums, detachment of gum tissue which causes a deeper tissue pocket around the tooth,
loss of bone around the tooth, and in advanced stages, tooth loss.

Prophylaxis “regular” cleaning.

If a patient has a healthy mouth or mild gingivitis (gingival inflammation), then a regular cleaning, done every six months is usually sufficient. Prophylaxis by definition removes plaque, calculus and stains as a preventive measure on patients with healthy mouths or mild to moderate gingivitis.


This type of cleaning is performed on patients with heavy tartar buildup either from not having had a cleaning recently or due to early periodontal disease. In these cases, the excess plaque and tartar take more time and effort to remove and an ultrasonic device or other scaling instruments need to be used. Oftentimes, a second cleaning appointment is needed.

Scaling and root planing.

This treatment, sometimes referred to as “deep cleaning,” is performed when a patient has periodontal disease. After numbing the patient for comfort, scaling is done with ultrasonic scalers and special instruments to remove plaque and tartar from the surface of the teeth and below the gum line. Planing then smooths the surface of the tooth root afterward. This treatment can take multiple visits.

Periodontal maintenance cleaning.

This type of cleaning is done on patients with a history of periodontal disease. Unlike the recommended 6 months for regular cleanings, periodontal patients need cleanings and check-ups every 3-4 months to keep periodontal disease from coming back or getting worse. Because periodontal disease is caused by bacteria, it triggers inflammation throughout the body and may contribute
to heart disease and various other systemic conditions. The important thing to remember is that dental cleanings are to prevent or treat periodontal disease, which is necessary to maintain good oral health, which affects overall health and wellness.

Regular cleanings and a good oral health routine are the gateways to dental health and to living life with a smile! Call our Élan Dental team of South Riding in Aldie, VA, today at (571) 445-5551 to schedule your next dental appointment.


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Mission Statement

The team at Elan Dental of South Riding arrive every day with the sole purpose of delivering exceptional care to our patients.  We seek to alleviate pain, restore what is broken, and ultimately enhance the health and lives of those who graciously entrust their health to us.  And we do so with the same quality of care, compassion and competence we would deliver to our very own family members. 

We have spent countless hours on designing our office to create a beautiful and relaxing environment so that you can be comfortable while using the latest technology and dental procedures so you can trust in our exceptional and gentle care.

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