Scale and polish

18 October 2018

Gum disease (Gingivitis) is caused by the build up of plaque on the teeth. Plaque is a coating of bacteria, that’s already in the mouth, which combines with food and drink (especially sugary or starchy foods). This coats the teeth throughout the day leaving a sticky furry film.

This can easily be removed by brushing and flossing. If it’s not removed it will build up and irritate the gums. This causes the gums to become swollen and peel away slightly from the tooth. The gums become so filled with blood that’s trying to fight off the bacteria; they start to bleed when brushing. Over time the plaque becomes hardened (tartar) and the bacteria gets into the space between the tooth and gums (pockets) and starts to eat away at the bone under the gums. Eventually the supporting bone is lost so much the tooth becomes loose and can fall out completely.

The hardened tartar is removed by having a scale and polish with a dentist or hygienist. They’ll remove the tartar using hand instruments to scrape the tartar off the teeth and slightly below the gum line – known as descaling. Sometimes a mechanical tool is used - this has a fine tip that vibrates and sprays water and disinfectant into the pockets. This loosens the tartar and removes it at the same time as flushing the pockets to remove debris and bacteria.

After the descaling the dentist or hygienist will polish the teeth to leave the teeth and the gums totally clean.

Teeth whitening

What is it?

Tooth whitening is a cosmetic procedure, using a dental bleach to lighten your natural teeth colour. Tooth whitening can make your teeth several shades whiter, but not in all cases.

It won’t whiten existing crowns, bridges, dentures or fillings, so these may have to be replaced as well for cosmetic reasons (to make them match the whiter teeth).

Who can do it?

Bleaching can only be carried out by a dental professional. This means a dentist, a hygienist or dental therapist on the prescription of a dentist. This is because the strength of dental bleach that's used. In some cases the bleaching can cause chemical burns or soreness to the gums.

It’s illegal for any other person to carry out tooth whitening including beauty salons and tanning salons. You can purchase DIY bleaching kits, but these won’t give the same whitening results as a dentist.

How’s it done?

The most common form of tooth whitening is an ‘at home bleaching kit’. This is where your dentist will take an impression of your teeth, using a soft putty material in a plastic tray and send it to a laboratory to have a bleaching tray made. This is usually a soft plastic that fits over the teeth.

The dentist will then provide a bleaching agent (most commonly carbamide peroxide up to 15%) and will give instructions on the use. Your dentist will instruct you on how long to wear the tray each day at home, which can be anything from 1 hour to overnight depending on the bleaching agent used.

The other form of tooth whitening is ‘in house bleaching’. This is where the teeth are whitened in the dental chair. The bleaching agent is painted on the teeth by the dentist. Sometimes a light is used to activate or speed up the process, depending on which dental bleach is used. This type of tooth whitening can take up to an hour.

Both types of tooth whitening are not permanent. How long it lasts differs from person to person; it can be anything from 3 months to 3 years. Drinking tea, coffee and red wine, smoking and eating a lot food containing turmeric or saffron can cause staining, so you may need to have the tooth whitening done more often.