Dentists and Hygienists- STOP CLEANING TEETH!

We are doing our patients a major disservice by continuing to refer to a therapeutic disease control program as a “cleaning”. By using that term we are under-rating the importance of the service and encouraging the patient to consider their disease as something to be not too concerned about. Nowhere in the dental codes 4355, 4341, 4342, 4910, will you find the word “cleaning“.

Gingivitis and bacteria

 Some practices use the phrase “deep scaling”. Where in the wide world of Ste. Apalonia (Patron Saint of Dentistry) did that misleading phrase come from? A scaling, which is a component of hygiene therapy, is either thorough (deep) or inadequate. I prefer to call the therapeutic disease control program Comprehensive (or Conservative) Periodontal TherapyCPT.
The American Dental Association reports now that 75% of the US population has some degree of Periodontal Disease, and still many dentists fail to bring it to their patients’ attention. You also need to ask yourself what patients really expect. When YOU go to a medical professional, don’t you expect to hear what is best for YOUR health? That is exactly what your patients expect.
When a patient leaves home for a dental appointment, he/she has brushed and flossed their teeth and in their mind their teeth are CLEAN! Why would they pay a registered health care professional to professionally “clean” their teeth when they have already done so.
In order to change our patients’ attitudes about dental hygiene we need to use the right language. It is a dental hygiene appointment, it is a hygiene therapy appointment, or supportive periodontal hygiene therapy. It is a Comprehensive (or Conservative) Periodontal Therapy CPT. It’s not just a “cleaning“. It is an important part of the patient’s health and healing and it’s essential to educate the patient on the oral health link with systemic health. Help your patients to value the hygiene appointment.
Ten years ago the concept of the oral-systemic connection was absolutely foreign to the healthcare community. Today, however, most people are aware of the obvious connection; the media are paying more and more attention, and the intellectual public is searching the web. It is our responsibility to spread the word- the correct word.

It is well documented that the same bacteria (primarily spirochetes) that harbor in the gums and are responsible for PD, are directly related to heart disease, strokes, lung disease, kidney failure, and premature underweight births. The bottom line is that EVERYONE must be agressive in the early discovery and treatment of PD- and it’s especially true for a systemically compromised person. A health history interview with every new patient (and “recall”) is essential.
Recent research has also shown a connection to Alzheimer’s Disease.

14 thoughts on “Dentists and Hygienists- STOP CLEANING TEETH!

  1. Charles, I couldn’t agree more!. We need not speak down to our patients. When I meet anyone who says ‘deep cleaning’; I ask: “What is that?” Consumers want to be educated about periodontal disease and it’s far reaching effects on oral and systemic health. It is the job of everyone in the dental office to use appropriate terms such as scaling and root planing, therapeutic versus prophylactic, etc. in our discussions with patients. After all, if they don’t hear the proper terms in the dental office; where else? Lee

    • Hi Lee~
      Right again! You and I know it’s the responsibility of dental professionals to educate the public. A more informed patient becomes a healthier one. We have to help them change their priorities… and their “dental speak”.. ~Charles

      • Yes, Kathleen~ Even calling this a “hygiene” appointment is archaic. Sure, the therapist may have a RDH degree, but s/he is providing a lot more than hygiene. Some old habits in dental lexicography are hard to change. ;-}

  2. Absolutely right, many patients going to a dental clinic just to clean her/his teeth.They are really surprised when I explain step by step the relationship between oral health and general health. Cardiopaties, stroke, osteopenia, under control diabetes, alzheimer, etc…have an strong relationship with c_reactive protein present during all states of periodontal disease(perio=around, dontal=diente) .They doesn’t know nothing about it, if you respect yourself like a professional, STOP CLEANING TEETH, you can do the best to your patients. Explain them everything you know in that way they can understand better why you always insist in flossing his teeth every single day. Remember: You need to be proud of your profession. Passion,dedication and excellent service, made you better hygienist. If you bring the best, patient do the best because they are your mirror.

    • This is a great point to my question: “Why is dental care not covered by Health Care by default?”
      I would love nothing more than to trade in all the doctor’s visits, check ups, and unnecessary prescriptions for Dental care. Even if only for a year or two.

  3. Sadly I fear for as long as we are referred to as Dental Hygienists this will continue . Time we were properly called Periodontal Therapists!

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