There can often be some confusion between periodontal maintenance and dental prophylaxis (prophy). After all, these are two very similar teeth-cleaning procedures, and it can be difficult to tell the difference without some background knowledge of each one. In almost all circumstances, if you require one treatment you do not need or cannot receive the other, and for very good reasons, too. While both treatments appear to be similar, they each treat very different conditions.
Let’s take a brief look at both treatments:
When a dentist performs periodontal maintenance, they are working on gums that have at some point become infected. If plaque is allowed to build up on the teeth, over time it can lead to tooth decay and gingivitis – the first stage of gum disease. If left untreated, the bacteria that causes gingivitis can affect the deeper parts of the gums and the jawbone. This condition is known as Periodontitis, or Periodontal Disease, and can lead to tooth loss.
Unfortunately, periodontal disease cannot be ‘cured’, but it can be controlled. Periodontal maintenance is what a dentist does to make sure periodontal disease is well-managed and does not worsen.
Some of the procedures a dentist performs during periodontal maintenance include:
- Removal of plaque, tartar and bacteria
- Tooth cleaning – scaling and root planing
- Providing specific oral hygiene instructions
- Laser treatment if necessary
It is important to understand that periodontal maintenance only applies to patients who have been diagnosed with some form of periodontal disease. Now, let’s take a look at dental prophylaxis (often referred to as a ‘prophy’):
As with all diseases and conditions, prevention is always better than cure. For example, although periodontitis can be managed, it is a much better option to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place. This is what the procedures involved in dental prophylaxis aim to do – to prevent any form of dental disease in a healthy patient from happening.
The main element of dental prophylaxis is that the tooth cleaning procedures are carried out on healthy teeth in order to keep them clean and healthy.
Some of the procedures a dentist performs during a prophy include:
- Supragingival cleaning – cleaning the area above the gum line
- Subgingival cleaning – cleaning the area beneath the gum line
- Root planing – smoothing the tooth root to eliminate disease-causing bacteria
While these procedures may seem similar to those involved in periodontal maintenance, the main difference is why they are performed.
Let’s look a little closer at why each treatment is performed:
Why Periodontal Maintenance is performed
When a patient is diagnosed with any form of periodontal disease, regular tooth and gum cleanings are required to control and manage the disease. Because the disease was not prevented through a thorough home care regime the procedures involved in periodontal maintenance take the place of dental prophylaxis, which are preventative measures.
The teeth and gums are inspected and cleaned at regular intervals to make sure the periodontal disease is stabilized and is less likely to return.
Why Dental Prophylaxis is performed
Even if your teeth are in a good, healthy condition, it is still necessary for your dentist to perform regular deep cleanings. This is to ensure your teeth remain as healthy as possible, and to prevent any form of dental disease from occurring.
If you have never developed any form of dental disease (such as periodontitis), then regular prophy’s can help your teeth and gums stay in good condition.
Why can’t I have a Prophy if I’m receiving Periodontal Maintenance?
The main reason is because the need for one treatment makes the other obsolete. You wouldn’t receive Periodontal Maintenance if you have healthy teeth and have never had any form of dental disease – it would be completely unnecessary. The same applies to Dental Prophylaxis – if you’re receiving Periodontal Maintenance for active or inactive periodontitis, then you are already being treated for a disease making the preventative nature of a prophy unnecessary.
One way to remember this is by considering the following:
- Periodontal Maintenance = for diseased teeth/gums only
- Dental Prophylaxis = for healthy teeth/gums only
While the procedures involved in both Periodontal Maintenance and Dental Prophylaxis appear to be similar – because the are similar – they are both performed for very different reasons.