Debridement in Dentistry

Every industry has its own lingo, with phrases and words that might sound odd or disturbing to the average person. Being part of the medical field, dentists sometimes use Latin-based names for body parts, like periodontal or temporomandibular. But if your Placerville dentist looks at your mouth and says you need to have a “debridement,” you might look back at him and say, “What?”

Regardless of your actual response, debridement isn’t a cause for concern. When dealing with the rest of the body, debridement is the removal of damaged tissue or foreign objects from a wound. Debridement in dentistry is explained by the ADA (American Dental Association) as the “removal of subgingival (below the gumline) and/or supragingival (above the gumline) plaque and tartar that obstruct the ability to perform an evaluation.” Basically, a debridement gets all the plaque and tartar out of the way so your dentist can see what’s really going on with your teeth and gums.

When is Debridement Needed?

Bacteria relentlessly build plaque in your mouth. When you brush your teeth twice a day, floss, and use mouthwash, it prevents bacteria and plaque buildup. But when the plaque stays for a while, it quickly calcifies into tartar. Not only that, but the bacteria grow and multiply from this new “homebase,” attacking your teeth and irritating your gums. After a while, the tartar builds up so much and your gums are so red and swollen that the dentist cannot see the state of your teeth. If your teeth reach this point, you might have other issues going on — like cavities, bone loss, floating teeth, or gingivitis — but your dentist won’t know until they can inspect your teeth properly.

Debridement removes the plaque and tartar buildup, allowing your gums to heal and reattach to the smooth surfaces of clean teeth. This typically leads to smaller pockets along the gumline, which means fewer places for food debris to get stuck or for bacteria to hide from your toothbrush, floss, and fluoride.

Debridement Details

Where there is extensive tartar buildup, your dentist might need equipment like ultrasonic scaling tools that break up and scrape away the accumulation. Also, the procedure typically goes deeper below the gums, so a numbing agent like novocaine, or another topical anesthetic, is usually required. The procedure itself might be broken into two sessions, depending on the patient’s sensitivity or the amount of work involved.

After the main debridement, allowing for the gums to heal, your dentist may follow through with a scheduled deep cleaning. It’s also known as SRP therapy (SRP stands for Scaling and Root Planing). This part of the procedure basically double-checks the work of the debridement, removing anything that was left behind. Instead of aggressive removal, SRP focuses on precision, getting rid of remaining deposits that were missed on the first inspection. If the debridement took care of the excessive plaque and tartar, you may proceed directly to an examination and standard dental cleaning.

After Debridement

Your teeth and gums have just been though an ordeal, both due to long-term bacterial activity and the rapid removal of their plaque products, so your dentist might prescribe a prescription mouthwash to help your gums recover and to completely eliminate the offensive bacteria for a period of time. Your gums are likely to feel tender, sore, or otherwise uncomfortable for hours, or even days, depending on the circumstances.

Once that tough work is done, your mouth has a fresh start! Your dentist gets a clear view of your teeth and gums to develop a baseline for your oral care. They take note of any other issues, and then discuss them with you to create an action plan to improve your oral health. Knowing your teeth are free of so much tartar and plaque will no doubt boost your confidence and widen your smile!

Instead of Debridement

Although needing a debridement is not a large concern, it’s certainly avoidable. If you keep removing the plaque and bacteria in your mouth, it never gets a chance to build up and cause problems. All it takes is maintaining a good routine of oral hygiene, including brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing, and using mouthwash as needed. That usually means no more than five minutes in the morning, and five at night.

If you think you might need a debridement, or if you’re curious about how much tartar is too much, give our office a call. You can also bring up the subject at your next visit or schedule a consultation online. The Placerville Dental Group is ready to assist you in getting a debridement — or avoiding it altogether!


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