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Prophy FAQ


1) What is a prophy?

Prophy is short for “prophylaxis,” a medical term used to describe any treatment which prevents a disease from occurring.  In the dental community when we say “prophy” we mean “dental prophylaxis,” a simple cleaning procedure for healthy patients designed to prevent gum disease.

2)  What treatment can I expect to receive during a prophy appointment?

During a prophy appointment you can expect your hygienist to polish your teeth and perform some scaling with hand instruments.  The scaling is done to remove calculus (tartar buildup), mainly above the gum line.  The polish removes soft plaque and stain.  X-rays may also be taken, and an exam with the dentist usually takes place after the cleaning and x-rays are completed.

3)  How long does a prophy take?

We generally schedule 60 minutes with a hygienist for a prophy.  About 20 minutes of this time will be spent scaling and polishing the teeth.  The rest of the time is used for checking and recording your vitals, reviewing and updating your health history, taking x-rays, collecting information regarding your periodontal health, oral hygiene instruction, exam with the dentist, a fluoride treatment and scheduling your next hygiene appointment. 

4)  What if I have lots of tartar and it is above AND below the gums?

If you have tartar buildup below the gums you are most likely not a candidate for a regular prophy (simple cleaning).  The appropriate treatment for you may involve more time spent removing the tartar.  This treatment is what we call “periodontal therapy.”  More information on this type of cleaning is found under the headings of “RPC” and “Periodontal Maintenance.”  When there is a lot of tartar buildup, mostly above the gum line, but minimal to no bone loss is found on x-rays and clinical exam, the appropriate treatment is still a regular prophy.  However, the tartar is more difficult to remove and the procedure is more time-consuming.  This is called a “difficult prophy” and carries a slightly higher fee than the regular prophy due to the extra time, effort, and skill required to reach the desired result (no more tartar)

5)  What is the difference between plaque and calculus (tartar)?

Plaque is soft and can be removed with something as simple as a toothbrush or floss.  Calculus is what soft plaque turns into if left on the tooth surface.  As plaque sits on the teeth it will begin to absorb minerals from the saliva and crystallize into calculus, commonly referred to as tartar.  Calculus can not be removed by brushing and flossing.  Your hygienist uses hand instruments called scalers to remove calculus.  It only takes 24 hours for calculus to start to form, and the longer it stays on the teeth the harder it is to remove.  If it adheres firmly to the surfaces of your teeth you may require a different dental procedure to clean your teeth.  See Difficult Prophy & RPC FAQ.