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Oral prophylaxis is a dental procedure that removes tartar and plaque build-up from the teeth through polishing and scaling. It is different from teeth bleaching procedures because its purpose is to stop tooth decay or other dental issues. Through the process, the dental hygienist normally cleans under the gums and the surface of the teeth. It is not considered to be an aesthetic procedure, and it is generally performed by an experienced dental hygienist or dentist. Some people with severe staining or other complications may be advised against using this procedure.
Special equipment called automatic scalers are often used to perform oral prophylaxis. Sonic scalers deliver water and compressed air through a hose into a handheld unit. The air pushes the water out in rapid cycle to clean the teeth and area below the gums. Ultrasonic scalers use energy waves to clean the build-up. Although they can be noisy, bulky, and rather expensive, the automatic scalers work to make the cleaning procedure shorter and more comfortable for the patient.
Some people choose to undergo this process because they are trying to fight tooth decay, gum disease, or staining. The procedure may also be recommended for someone getting braces or other orthodontic work. Since braces make it hard to clean the teeth and gums, many people believe that starting out with very clean teeth will make it easier to maintain them during the time the braces are worn.
Oral prophylaxis is not recommended as a substitute for brushing the teeth, flossing, and visiting the dentist on a regular basis. There are some at-home tools that can help people maintain their teeth and gums, as well. Electronic or sonic toothbrushes are generally inexpensive and can help keep plaque and tartar build-up to a minimum. An oral irrigator may also work to maintain the teeth and gums. Most drug stores and dental offices sell these products.
For most people, this type of teeth cleaning is considered a safe procedure. Myths that the teeth become loose after prophylaxis are largely unsubstantiated, but it is important that the procedure is completed by a licensed professional. In addition, patients should discuss any medical conditions they have with the dental professional before undergoing the procedure. Some automatic scalers can be dangerous to people who have pacemakers, for example.
People with dental insurance should check to make sure the procedure is covered because, if not, it can be quite an expense. Many insurance companies are hesitant to cover oral prophylaxis, especially if they think it is used for aesthetic purposes.