Dental prophylaxis involves a dentist cleaning the teeth and inspecting the mouth for signs of any dental issues. Prophylaxis means preventive medical treatment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 80% of people in the United States will have a cavity by the age of 34 years. Oral health has links to many chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, so it is important to practice dental hygiene for teeth and overall health.

Some dental prophylaxis treatments include cleaning plaque from teeth and checking for signs of oral conditions. People who may be at risk for developing infective endocarditis may also receive antibiotic prophylaxis to reduce bacteria before dental prophylaxis. However, this is now a less common procedure.

This article will explain dental prophylaxis, why it may be necessary, and what to expect. It will also explain preventive measures for oral health issues.

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Dental prophylaxis involves looking after the teeth with regular checkups and correct oral hygiene. Regular teeth cleaning and checkups are crucial in preventing dental disease and oral health issues.

The CDC recommends people see a dentist at least once a year to maintain good oral health.

During the appointment, the dentist may:

  • check and clean the teeth
  • remove any plaque
  • polish the teeth
  • carry out scans or X-rays of the mouth to check for cavities or other problems
  • advise the person on any necessary dental work

Dental prophylaxis can help people avoid oral health problems such as gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss. The whole appointment may take about 1 hour.

Visit our dentistry hub to learn more about oral health.

Dental prophylaxis can help maintain good oral health, resulting in fewer issues over time. Regular checkups with a dentist can help with the folllowing dental issues.

Dental erosion

Teeth feature a protective coating known as enamel. Over time, various chemicals and substances from food and drink can wear it down.

This is known as enamel erosion, which can lead to:

Regular visits to the dentist can help prevent dental erosion. Dentists can also spot cavities or tooth decay early, making treatment easier and cheaper.

Read more about dental sensitivity.

Gum disease

Gum disease, or periodontal disease, occurs when bacteria in the mouth cause an infection in the tissue around the teeth. This buildup of bacteria can form a hard substance that dentists call tartar. This makes the teeth even harder to clean, worsening gum disease.

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, symptoms of gum disease include:

  • bad breath
  • tender gums
  • bleeding gums
  • swollen gums
  • loose teeth
  • sensitive teeth
  • receding gums

A dentist will usually remove the plaque during a prophylaxis appointment. This makes the teeth easier to keep clean daily and helps avoid gum disease.

Read more about periodontitis.

Other health conditions

The American Dental Association (ADA) says regular visits are also important because some health conditions have symptoms that can appear in the mouth. They include:

  • mouth cancer, which involves oral symptoms such as lumps and growths
  • diabetes, which can involve a dry mouth and bleeding gums
  • HIV, which can cause complications such as mouth sores

Dental prophylaxis usually refers to the teeth cleaning and assessments that dentists carry out during a routine checkup.

Dental antibiotic prophylaxis

Dentists may also sometimes talk about dental antibiotic prophylaxis. This is when people take antibiotics before dental procedures to avoid infection. Dentists may recommend it for the following individuals:

  • people at risk of a heart condition that doctors call infective endocarditis (IE), such as those with congenital heart disease or individuals who have had IE before
  • people at risk of developing an infection in a prosthetic joint, such as those who have had a total knee or hip replacement operation

However, doctors will rarely prescribe antibiotics before dental prophylaxis if people have had a joint replacement.

Read more about infective endocarditis.

During a dental prophylaxis appointment, the dentist may:

  • examine the person’s mouth and teeth for signs of dental erosion
  • use X-rays to discover potential oral health problems, such as cavities, that are not visible to the naked eye
  • use special instruments to check for signs of gum disease
  • remove plaque buildup
  • check the tongue, jaw, and neck for signs of mouth cancer

Dentists may also use a prophylaxis paste to clean and polish the teeth. They tend to apply the paste to the teeth using a small electric brush to remove bacteria, plaque, and stains and leave the teeth clean.

The procedure is usually a routine part of a checkup. However, dentists now know that aggressive tooth polishing may remove some of the outer tooth enamel. Therefore, they may only perform the procedure if it becomes necessary to remove plaque.

Before starting the checkup, a dentist may ask about a person’s health, recent medical history, and daily oral hygiene routine.

In terms of preparing for the appointment, people can make sure they brush and floss their teeth.

People will usually be able to carry on with their daily activities after a dental prophylaxis appointment.

Sometimes, people will need to speak with a dentist outside of their regular checkups. Individuals can consider making an appointment if:

  • their teeth are sensitive to hot or cold
  • their gums bleed during brushing or flossing
  • their gums look puffy
  • they have persistent bad breath
  • they have a persistent bad taste in their mouth
  • they are pregnant
  • they have pain or swelling in the mouth, face, or neck
  • they have a spot or sore in the mouth that does not go away

The CDC makes the following oral health recommendations for maintaining dental care and preventing future health issues:

  • brushing with fluoride toothpaste twice a day
  • flossing between the teeth once a day to remove plaque
  • avoiding the use of tobacco products
  • limiting alcoholic drinks
  • visiting the dentist at least once a year
  • if a person has conditions such as diabetes, maintaining control of it to avoid further oral health issues

Read about best practices for healthy gums and teeth.

Dental prophylaxis means looking after the teeth to prevent dental disease and health issues. It includes twice-yearly trips to the dentist for teeth cleaning and checkups. It can help people prevent oral health issues, such as gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss.

During the appointment, the dentist will usually examine the mouth and remove any plaque. They may also polish the teeth.