The Dental Wellness Institute
How often should I have my teeth cleaned?
Article #QA100, February, 2005
“My hygienist keeps telling me I should have my teeth cleaned every two months. But for years I’ve heard that you should go to the dentist every 6 months. What should I believe?” D. Kinsley, Los Angeles, CA.
This is a very good question and one, with variations, that I’ve been asked hundreds of times. The simple answer is that you should have your teeth cleaned as often as your hygienist or dentist recommends. The more detailed answer is that it depends on the health of your gums and how committed you are to your oral hygiene program.
For example, if your gums are healthy and you follow a sound oral hygiene program, you may not need to have to have your teeth cleaned every six months, or even every year. I’ve had patients who take such good care of their gums and teeth that they could go two years or more without needing a cleaning. Admittedly, because gum disease is so prevalent, this is an exception. But it is possible. (Even if your teeth do not need cleaning every 6 months, I strongly recommend that everyone go twice a year to be checked for oral cancer and signs of other diseases whose symptoms first appear in the mouth. Chapter 3 in Healthy Teeth - Healthy Body discusses why and what to look for in detail.)
Teeth Cleaning Every Month?
On the other hand, if someone has moderate to advanced gum disease and isn’t willing to actively participate in a oral hygiene program, it may be necessaryif he wants any hope of keeping his teethto have them cleaned every month. And if he refuses to spend any time taking care of them at home, even having them cleaned every month will not be enough.
There is another scenario that will dictate how often you should have your teeth cleanedwhen you’ve discovered that you have gum disease, have made the decision to have it treated, and have committed to a sound home prevention program. In this case, your hygienist may recommend having your teeth cleaned every month or so for the first 3 to 6 months. The actual frequency will depend on the severity of your gum infection and how effective you are at doing your part. There is a big difference between you and the person who is unwilling to commit to home care. In your case, once the gums have healed and the hygienist has determined that you are able to keep your gums healthy, she will recommend that you extend your cleaning appointments to every 3 months or even longer.
How Often Should I Have My Teeth Cleaned: Listen to Your Dental Hygienist
In summary, there are many factors that determine how often you should have your teeth cleaned. As long as long as you have gum disease, there is no doubt that the hygienist is the one best suited to determine how often. She knows how to evaluate the health of your gums and after a few appointments can determine how committed you are to taking care of your oral health.
So while I strongly urge you to let your hygienist be the judge, you should know that how often she will recommend having your teeth cleaned will ultimately be up to you and you alone! Your hygienist can only support you while you are in the dental office. She won’t be following you home and taking care of your gums and teeth between visitsthat’s your responsibility. It’s important to remember that treatment is what is done to you; prevention is something that is done by you!
Teeth Cleaning and Oral Hygiene
Over the years I’ve been asked many questions pertaining to having ones teeth cleaned. The following are answers to the most common questions regarding having your teeth cleaned.
Dental Insurance and Teeth Cleaning
Most dental insurance plans will only pay for two cleanings per year, but I urge you not to let your dental insurance dictate how many cleanings you should have. What your insurance is willing to pay for has nothing to do with how many times you should have your teeth cleaned. That decision should always be left up to your hygienist, even if you have to pay extra for more cleanings. I assure you it will not only save you money in the long run, but could also save your teeth. Remember, because of the negative affect of gum disease on overall health, those extra cleanings could improve your health and extend your life.
Six Month Dental Check-ups
After years of trying to find out why dentists recommend you visit them every 6 months, I finally found a plausible answer. Many, many years ago someone figured out that, for most people, it takes decay about 6 months, from the moment it starts to penetrate the enamel, before it can be detected by a dentist. If effect, the recommendation to visit a dentist every 6 months is to catch tooth decay early before it does serious damage to the tooth. Well, gum disease is a horse of a different color. Under the right conditions, such as not taking proper care of your gums, it can develop in a week. Untreated, it can progress rapidly and doesn’t follow any time line. When you are thinking about gum disease, you can forget the 6-month protocol.
Do Dental Cleanings Wear Away Enamel?
Another commonly asked question when I suggest someone should have more than two teeth cleanings per year is, “Will frequent teeth cleanings wear down the enamel of my teeth?” There are really two parts to the answer. First, the scaling instruments and the ultrasonic cleaner will only remove infinitesimal amounts of enamel and you should not be concerned about it.
Second, most polishing agents the hygienist uses to clean your teeth contain some abrasive material. But it is not a harsh abrasive and is only used to polish the enamel after a cleaning in order to keep plaque from sticking to the tooth. The amount of enamel this procedure removes is so insignificant that if you live to be a 100, you won’t know the difference. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. If you have exceptionally soft enamel, it should be taken into consideration when having your teeth polished by the dental hygienist. If a dentist has told you that your enamel is soft, or you aren’t sure but are concerned, you should always tell your hygienist. You can trust her to know what to do.
Last updated:Wed, Jun 30, 2010