Is Tooth Polishing Necessary?

woman with great dental healthWe know that for most of our patients, their favorite part of a dental cleaning is how smooth and clean their teeth feel afterward, not to mention how shiny they are. Tooth polishing has long been part of the dental checkup routine ever since the 1700s when Pierre Fauchard, the father of modern dentistry, recommended it. However, if you’ve had your teeth cleaned recently (and you have, right?) you may have noticed that your dentist or hygienist didn’t polish every single tooth. That’s because the results of recent studies are changing how dentists and dental hygienists approach polishing.

First, let’s do a quick review of what happens during a dental cleaning appointment. The whole point of a dental cleaning is to remove plaque and tartar that has accumulated on your teeth. If not removed, this bacteria-laden debris can lead to cavities and gum disease. The hygienist will go after the most stubborn buildup with an ultrasonic tool, which uses the power of fine vibrations to break up tartar and water to flush it away. Next, the hygienist may use hand tools to remove any smaller spots of buildup and to smooth out the tooth surface.

After your teeth have been thoroughly cleaned and all the plaque and tartar removed, then it’s time for polishing. Most polishing is done with a tiny rubber cup that spins on the end of a hand-held wand. Before polishing your teeth, the hygienist scoops up some prophy paste onto the rubber cup. Prophy paste is like an extra-gritty version of toothpaste, which often comes in similar flavors. The hygienist then applies the prophy paste to your teeth, and the spinning of the cup polishes your teeth and removes stains. After rinsing your mouth, the hygienist may floss your teeth, then apply a fluoride treatment, which helps teeth absorb minerals that make them stronger.

In fact, removing surface stains is the primary purpose of tooth polishing these days. In the past, it was thought that polishing teeth to make them smoother made it harder for the bacteria-laden gunk that leads to gum disease and tooth decay to attach to teeth. It turns out that removing plaque and tartar during the ultrasonic scaling part of your hygiene visit is really what helps keep bacteria from adhering (plus your daily home oral hygiene routine, of course). While polishing certainly smooths out your teeth, it hasn’t been shown to make a huge difference in preventing gum disease or tooth decay. In fact, some studies have shown that polishing can even temporarily weaken your tooth enamel, making your teeth slightly more vulnerable until the outer layer of enamel grows back.

Many dental professionals now consider polishing to be primarily a cosmetic procedure. That’s why some dentists and hygienists only do selective polishing, in which they only choose certain teeth to polish, such as those with superficial stains that didn’t get removed by the ultrasonic cleaning or hand tools. So while polishing is certainly nice to get that perfectly smooth feeling after your appointment, don’t be alarmed if your hygienist doesn’t polish all of your teeth. Polishing is not as important to preventing oral problems as the ultrasonic cleaning and manual removal of plaque and tartar and tooth-strengthening fluoride treatments.

If you have any questions about the dental cleaning process, always feel free to ask us! We look forward to seeing you at your next appointment.

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5 Things You Didn’t Know From Dental Care History in the U.S.

history of dentistry tube of toothpasteWe’ll bet the early history of dental care and dentists in the United States is far more interesting that you would have guessed, filled with famous names and genius innovations. While the technology and discoveries that led to modern dentistry happened all over the world, many notable firsts took place in the United States.

1768-1770 – Paul Revere the Dentist

While Paul Revere is known best as a silversmith and for his famous ride during the Revolutionary War, he also briefly offered services as a dentist. He was also responsible for the first known case of using dental forensics to identify a body. After the Battle of Breed’s Hill in Boston, Revere confirmed the identity of his friend Dr. Joseph Warren by the dental bridge he had constructed for him.

1789 – George Washington’s Dentures

When George Washington was serving as the first U.S. president, American dentist John Greenwood crafted him a set of false teeth from hippopotamus ivory, gold wire, brass and human teeth. Contrary to legend, none of Washington’s sets of dentures were made of wood. Several of his sets of false teeth still exist today and are on display at museums near his home.

1840 – The First Dental School

Horace Hayden and Chapin Harris established the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, the first dental school in the world. This school is also the first to offer the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree, which is later adopted by other institutions. The College later became part of the University of Maryland. The Dentariae Medicinae Doctorae (DMD) degree was later established by Harvard University, leading to lots of confusion over the two names for what is essentially the same dental degree!

1880s – Toothpaste in a Tube!

The invention of metal tube packaging makes at home oral hygiene more convenient than ever. Toothpaste can now be sold pre-mixed in a squeezable tube. Before this, people had to mix powder with water to make their own paste whenever they cleaned their teeth.

1896 – The Introduction of X-Rays

Just a year after William Roentgen, a German physicist, discovers x-rays, an American dentist named C. Edmond Kells takes a dental x-ray of a living patient for the first time. X-rays go on to become one of dentistry’s most powerful tools for diagnosis and treatment planning.

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What Is Toothpaste Made Of?

toothpaste ingredients prevent tooth decayThese days people are being more and more conscious of what’s in the food they eat and the products they buy. But do you know what your toothpaste is made of? The answer is there are many different compounds that make up toothpaste. Modern toothpaste is truly a marvel of modern science that can remove stains and prevent tooth decay.

The official name for toothpaste is dentrifice, which means any substance intended to remove debris from teeth in order to prevent tooth decay. Dentrifice used to include both tooth powders and toothpastes, until the invention of the toothpaste tube made pre-mixed pastes much more popular because they were more convenient. Dentrifice is still the French word for toothpaste, though it hasn’t been used in English since around the turn of the 20th century.

All toothpastes have at least two key components: abrasives and surfactants. Abrasives are rough materials that aid the toothbrush in scrubbing debris such as plaque, tartar and food particles from teeth. Perhaps the most well-known toothpaste abrasive is sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda. Other abrasives include aluminum hydroxide, calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate, and silicas.

Abrasives also polish teeth so they’re shiny and smooth, but using them too roughly can actually damage teeth by stripping away enamel, which makes teeth more vulnerable to tooth decay. That’s why it’s better to use a soft-bristled toothbrush than a hard bristle one, and to brush thoroughly, not hard.

Surfactants are compounds that help toothpaste get nice and foamy. This lathering effect has a real purpose: it helps evenly distribute the abrasives and other components, such as fluoride. While your dentist and the American Dental Association recommends toothpastes with fluoride for most people, there are fluoride free varities for those with a fluoride sensitivity. Fluoride is a natural mineral that helps prevent tooth decay and can even remineralize degraded tooth enamel.

Other inactive ingredients found in toothpaste include water (which can account for nearly 40% of what’s in the tube) and chemicals to keep the paste from drying out, such as propylene glycol and glycerol. Some pastes also include anti-bacterial agents that can help eliminate the bacteria that cause gum disease. Specialized toothpastes, such as whitening or anti-sensitivity, may contain other compounds that contribute to their particular purpose.

If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed by the choices in the toothpaste aisle, feel free to talk to our dental care team about which toothpaste is right for you.

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