Why Can’t I Get My Teeth Cleaned?

By Dr. John Paul, FDA Editor

I hear this question every so often, and I can sympathize with you. I’d like to give you a quick answer that would solve your concern, but there just isn’t one. Health care is a complicated subject.

Without seeing you, I can’t offer specific answers to your questions because every patient has individual conditions and needs. If I can tell you a story about two seemingly similar patients, maybe you can find some answers about yourself.

Jane is 30 years old, has always been fairly healthy, never had many cavities and has no immediate concerns about her teeth. She got a new job with dental benefits and decided now was the time to see a dentist. She scheduled an appointment with an office that seemed popular on social media and local advertising. The staff seemed pleasant and the office was clean. She saw the dentist for a few minutes — he looked at some records on the computer, took a quick look in her mouth, said something to the assistant and left. Mostly Jane talked with staff members who told her about how she would need to start with “deep cleanings,” and they talked about how she could make plans to pay for the treatment. Jane made an appointment for the deep cleanings, but canceled it because she was unsure about the treatment.

She scheduled with my office for a second opinion. We had her X-rays sent from the other office and I performed a thorough evaluation that lasted 20 minutes. We discussed the health of the bone and the gums holding her teeth in her jaw as well as the teeth themselves. There were a few fillings that were OK, no decay and her teeth did not need any other fillings. Her gums bled a little and there was stuff between her teeth because Jane was not the best flosser. The probing depths were all 3mm or less and the bone level was proper in the X-rays. All this was explained to Jane so she knew what a dentist was looking for and what the results might mean. Jane’s diagnosis was gingivitis, with a low risk of caries. The appropriate treatment was dental prophylaxis, which some people refer to as a “regular cleaning,” but is really a maintenance visit to help healthy people stay healthy. I didn’t have complete records from her previous dentist, and I am left to assume I disagreed with their initial diagnosis and treatment plan.

Bill’s also 30 years old, never had a cavity in his entire life, but he was concerned about his bad breath and wanted to get his teeth cleaned to take care of it. I spoke with Bill about how we would review his mouth and teeth. We examined his entire mouth, took X-rays and used these results to form a diagnosis. While Bill had no cavities, the space between his teeth and gums measured at least 6mm and bled at every site. On X-ray, the bone loss at each tooth was significant and most of his teeth were loose. His diagnosis was advanced periodontitis. I referred Bill to a specialist, though he did not go. A year later, Bill came back to my office and without treatment, the disease had advanced. We ended up pulling 28 teeth that had never had a cavity because the bone was too diseased to hold them in his mouth.

From the outside, both patients appeared to be about the same — successful young people without much history at the dentist and no serious concerns. They represent two extremes of what I see in my practice, but I see someone who could be Jane and someone who could be Bill nearly every month.


When choosing a dentist, you may want to call or visit more than one dentist to find the right match for you, as dentists and practices often have different styles to fit patients’ distinctive needs and personalities. Ask trusted friends and family for recommendations or visit floridadental.org/public/find-a-dentist to find a Florida Dental Association member dentist near you.

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