The word prophylaxis means a measure taken for prevention. With regard to dental treatment, prophylaxis involves cleaning mineralized accumulations of bacteria-rich food (known as calculus, or tartar), and superficial stains from the teeth of periodontally healthy or periodontally stable patients (i.e. those who do not have active gum disease).
Even a person who is meticulous about cleaning the teeth and gums will typically develop calculus deposits at some locations in the mouth, most notably around the salivary glands (cheek side of upper molars, and behind the lower front teeth). Those who have dental restorations (fillings, crowns, etc.) have the additional challenge of preventing accumulations of plaque and calculus around the edges (margins) of those restorations, especially if they are poorly contoured.
If bacterial plaques are allowed to remain in the mouth, the immune system produces an inflammatory reaction which is harmful to tissue. The bacteria themselves release acids and enzymes which are also destructive to tissue—including the hard tissues of teeth and bone. Oral diseases (caries and periodontal disease) are bacterial illnesses. Bacteria that inhabit the mouth can enter the body through oral circulation and lead to systemic illnesses.
We help you prevent these processes from occurring by examining and cleaning your mouth and teeth at regular intervals. We typically recommend prophylaxis twice a year for the average healthy adult patient. For adult patients who maintain meticulous oral hygiene, proper nutrition, and have never experienced tooth cavities or gum problems, an annual prophylaxis interval may be appropriate. For some patients, such as those with mental or physical challenges that impair effective oral hygiene may require prophylaxis as often as every 6 to 8 weeks in certain circumstances. Our recommended interval is based on the patient’s ability to keep their mouth clean, the rate at which bacteria colonize their teeth and gums, their immune response, and the their general health.