A dental prophylaxis is a dental procedure which is performed with the goal of reducing the risk of gum and tooth disease. Also known simply as a prophylaxis or prophy, this procedure is recommended at intervals which can vary from six months to two years, depending on a patient's history. It is performed by a dentist or licensed dental hygienist who has received specialized training in tooth care.
In a dental prophylaxis, the technician performs both scaling and polishing. During the scaling process, tools are used to remove tartar, plaque, and stains from the teeth, including below the gum line. The polishing process smooths the teeth to remove rough spots which might otherwise attract bacteria. Some dentists also offer tooth sealant services, which are designed to prevent decay of the teeth.
The most important part of a dental prophylaxis involves cleaning below the gumline. People who floss and brush their teeth regularly can usually keep their teeth relatively healthy above the gums. Below the gums, however, it is difficult for tools like toothbrushes to reach, and dental calculus can build up. This exposes the patient to the risk of gum disease and dental decay.
During a dental prophylaxis, the care provider will also inspect the teeth and jaw for any obvious signs of ill health. This inspection may reveal underlying medical issues such as receding gums, erupting wisdom teeth, or dental cavities which will require treatment. Early identification of dental problems can help people deal with them before they become serious.
A dentist can make recommendations about the frequency of prophylaxis appointments on the basis of a patient's history and overall oral health. Some patients may benefit from more frequent appointments, while others may need a thorough tooth cleaning less frequently. While tooth cleanings are often used as an excuse to get patients in for a checkup, patients can book checkups, including dental X-rays, without needing a dental prophylaxis.
Humans are not the only species who benefit from dental prophylaxis. Pets and working animals such as cats, dogs, horses, and cattle also require dental care, which can be provided by a veterinarian. Cats and dogs in particular are prone to developing gum and tooth disease, including painful conditions such as feline oral resorptive lesions. Regular dental prophylaxis can prevent disease and keep animals more comfortable.