In addition to brushing your teeth: how useful is professional teeth cleaning?

It is intensively advertised in many dental practices: professional tooth cleaning every few months, often to be paid out of pocket.

In addition to brushing your teeth: how useful is professional teeth cleaning?

It is intensively advertised in many dental practices: professional tooth cleaning every few months, often to be paid out of pocket. The teeth may look brighter and cleaner afterwards - but does the measure actually have a benefit for dental health?

It usually costs dozens to over 100 euros, and the practice often sends a new invitation every six months: "professional teeth cleaning" has become the widespread standard for adults and often even for children. But how great is the medical benefit for healthy teeth? Experts see major limitations.

"Unambiguous scientific evidence of the medical benefits of so-called professional teeth cleaning does not exist," says Markus Hüttmann from the Independent Patient Advice Service Germany on Dental Health Day on September 25th. How useful such a treatment is for dental health has so far hardly been examined in meaningful studies.

Hüttmann refers to the so-called IGeL monitor, which explains the purpose and benefits of medical services. "What is the point of having teeth and interdental spaces cleaned, decalcified, polished and fluoridated?" the 2012 report asks. The answer: "unclear". However, Hüttmann qualifies: "The study there only relates to adults with healthy teeth and not to people with periodontal diseases." The medical service of the health insurance companies is behind the IGeL monitor.

The President of the German Dental Association, Christoph Benz, does not want to leave the classification as it is. That's a lot shortened, he says. The medical benefit is well documented, the only thing missing is randomized controlled trials (RCT). These are considered the gold standard for assessing the benefit of treatments. Subjects are randomly assigned to a therapy or placebo group prior to treatment.

Stefan Wolfart, Director of the Clinic for Dental Prosthetics and Biomaterials at the University Hospital RWTH Aachen, refers to help for patients with diseased gums. For them, professional teeth cleaning can make sense several times a year - depending on how damaged the teeth are and how active the caries bacteria are.

"If a patient is able to take care of his teeth perfectly, professional teeth cleaning is of course not necessary," says Wolfart. If children and adults want to maintain their dental health, they should brush their teeth regularly with fluoride toothpaste, says Hüttmann.

Julian Schmoeckel, Senior Physician in Pediatric Dentistry at the University Medical Center Greifswald, has a similar view: In pediatric dentistry, professional tooth cleaning is rarely really necessary. More important is the individual prophylaxis at the dentist, "which is also taken over by the GKV (statutory health insurance) once every six months, where brushing your teeth is checked and trained".

Many health insurance companies only cover part of the cost of professional teeth cleaning. Why are these so popular despite the relatively high costs and often questionable benefits? The Independent Patient Advice Center considers the pursuit of ideals of beauty to be a conceivable motivation. Some people leave the practice with the good feeling that they have done a lot for optically beautiful teeth.

For clinic director Wolfart, however, good cleaning also includes instructing patients to continuously improve their oral hygiene at home. In this way, the dental plaque can be stained and the patient can be made aware of the sensitive areas in the mouth. After all, as the experts emphasize, it is above all daily care that determines the health of the teeth.

(This article was first published on Saturday, September 24, 2022.)

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