A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Dr. Shelley Shearer: It’s spring cleaning time—for your teeth; winter eating can cause plaque buildup

By Shelley Shearer, D.M.D.
Special to the NKyTribune

Spring cleaning signals more than just sprucing up the house and preparing the patio for warm weather gatherings. It’s also the perfect time to have your spring teeth cleaning.


Just like firefighters urge people to check their smoke detector batteries every fall, dentists believe spring is the perfect time to have one of two routine cleanings a year, mostly performed by the office dental hygienist.

This has been a particularly harsh winter with a lot of Netflix binging, and big bowls of popcorn and sugary treats consumed in front of the TV. The result: bacterial plaque buildup. As it hardens it turns into a rough and porous substance known as tartar which can trap plaque and make it difficult to remove. Plaque can lead to the release of toxins that affect the gum fibers responsible for holding teeth in place. The bacteria toxins that cause pockets to form, result in inflammation and infection. If untreated, it could lead to gum disease and tooth abscess. It calls for what is known as a deep cleaning and extra attention from your dentist.

So what is a deep cleaning to remove all this excessive build up? Dentists advise a deep cleaning when the pockets that form between your gums and teeth exceed five to six mm. It’s measured using a periodontal probe. At the same time dentists assess the plaque buildup on the gum lines and root area. If we see gum disease, popularly known to the public as gingivitis from all those TV commercials, we get to work.

A deep cleaning should not cause much discomfort unless the buildup has gone deep into the pockets around the gum. If that’s the case, a topical numbing solution or local anesthesia may be in order. Generally, we use a scaling instrument to remove the tartar. It may cause a vibrating sensation. Ultrasonic equipment powered by electricity or air not only removes tartar but releases water that helps remove additional debris around teeth and from those nasty pockets.

Sometimes patients who experienced the “winter blues” also often forgot to regularly brush and floss. The result: a lot more gingivitis or gum disease that may require one or two additional appointments. Many dentists prescribe pain medication, an antimicrobial mouth rinse and antibiotic gels to get you ready.

Don’t wait for pain to prompt a dental visit. According to the American Dental Association, two regular cleanings a year are recommended.  To side step the need for a deep cleaning and the danger of gum disease, brush and floss daily and avoid unhealthy habits such as smoking.  If you follow this advice, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your spring dental cleaning will take and how wonderful your smile will look along with the rest of your sparkly spring- cleaned home and garden.

Dr. Shelley Shearer is a graduate of the University of Louisville Dental School and Founder of Shearer Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Florence.


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