No two of us are alike. We all have our own smiles, speech patterns, eye and hair colorings. But we're just now beginning to learn how unique our mouth environments really are. Turns out, they're as distinctively different as fingerprints.
One patient can go a year between checkups, while another might need to return as often as every six weeks for teeth cleaning. The difference? The unique bacterial/chemical mix of each person's mouth. Professionally we call these differences "individualization."
"Individualization" accounts for the fact that some mouths are genetically and chemically programmed to create tartar buildups, while others barely produce tartar at all. These genetic "signatures" even extend to tooth decay. There are patients who - despite their best efforts - appear cavity susceptible.
Mouths, like people, are affected by years as well as by genes. If you're over 60, your oral chemistry is changing - and thorough examinations of gums and salivary glands can be a lifesaving early detector of oral cancer or other disease.
Patients over 55 develop twice as many cavities as children do. Many times that's because medications seniors take reduce saliva flow and dry the mouth - an open invitation for tooth decay and periodontal disease.
What should you expect from a visit to your dental hygienist? Along with your dental cleaning you may need professional scaling and root planing to remove harmful plaque and calculus deposits. He or she may also record the depths of your periodontal pockets (that space between your teeth and gums where decay and periodontal disease flourish).
Keeping track of you is a key part of the hygienist's job. It includes keeping your dental chart and health history current, making preliminary oral inspections, and creating tooth impressions.
Your hygienist is also an educator - someone who can teach you preventive dentistry skills - brushing and flossing techniques that make for healthy, trouble-free gums and teeth. Together, you two can make an unbeatable team!