Why Dental Cleaning Is Important: Answering The Tough Questions

Over the past few years, with prices on the rise, people have become more cost-conscious than ever before.

We’ve seen cord cutting, cashback apps, and budget store brands all take off in recent years — even healthcare spending (like dental cleanings!) has sometimes ended up on the chopping block.

But should it?

Some of our more reflective consultees and patients have brought us tough (but fair!) questions about the value of regular dental checkups.

They want to know — “look, these visits are expensive and I'm supposed to come in for one every 6 months, so what am I really getting?”

They’re probably not the only ones out there with those questions, so we’re sharing them here with you to explain, in detail, why dental cleaning is important.

Why you can trust us

Glen Dental Centre is led by 6 experienced, multidisciplinary dentists with over a century of combined experience. They’ve seen diligent visitors and people who have gone decades between checkups, seeing firsthand how regular dental care affects patient health.

4 tough questions about dental cleanings

Below, you’ll find four of the most pointed questions we’ve received about dental cleanings.

As a team of dentists, none of us ever want to give patients the unconvincing answer of, “because it’s good for you”, especially in response to insightful questions that clearly deserve thoughtful answers.

With that in mind, we’ve put together these responses to help you understand, from a dentist’s perspective, how routine cleanings and checkups provide irreplaceable value.

Humans survived for millenia without checkups, so why are they now “necessary”?

There are a few reasons why dental checkups matter more to modern people than they do to people who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago.

The first of these is the modern diet. 

Today, the average person’s diet includes a much higher amount of sugars and carbohydrates — the types of dietary elements that plaque bacteria thrive on. Ancient people didn’t have to deal with that added hazard to their gums and teeth.

Second is overall lifespan.

On average, people live longer than they used to. Oral health problems that were once just “for old people”, like age-related gum disease, have become problems that are encountered by a higher proportion of people. Regular checkups and cleanings help to prevent or manage these issues.

Finally, there’s quality of life.

For a large part of human history, people just accepted things like missing teeth, tooth pain, and enamel staining as unavoidable parts of life. These days, it’s a different story. Whether it’s applying for a job, entering the dating market, or just getting through everyday life, there’s an expectation that people will have decent, problem-free mouths.

Together, those factors make regular checkups a key part of modern healthcare. People from the past would *also* have benefited from regular dental care; the difference is that they just didn’t have access to it.

I don’t need to see a dermatologist or physiotherapist regularly — what’s so special about dentistry?

This is a very valid point, but - from a health perspective - it really says more about dentistry having done a better job of teaching people why everyday dental care matters.

Seeing your physiotherapist or dermatologist regularly would almost certainly help you enjoy a higher quality of life and uncover potential health issues earlier.

Of course, most people don’t see a laundry list of specialists on a regular basis, and they get through life just fine, so why is dentistry the exception?

It’s different because, in many cases, the symptoms of dental issues aren’t obvious until they’re at a critical stage.

Let’s use a toothache as an example. Typically, that starts with a small pocket of decay that progresses into a cavity — the kind of thing that would be caught by a regular checkup and addressed with a filling.

Without a checkup, that pocket of decay would continue to eat into the enamel of the tooth, eventually making its way into the nerve-rich center of the tooth and causing sharp pain. 

At that point, tooth loss would be a very real possibility, and saving it would require a more costly and complex root canal rather than just a basic filling.

Beyond that, checkups complement at-home care in ways that are essential for long-term health, which is different from many - or even most - health disciplines.

We’ll (respectfully) use dermatologists as an example here.

A good dermatologist can improve the health of your skin and advise you on how to maintain a better everyday skincare routine.

Without that intervention, though, you’ll probably still be able to avoid serious, health-threatening skin problems.

In that sense, checkups and cleanings are different. They reach areas that are practically impossible to clean at home — areas that, left uncleaned, will eventually cause problems like pain, gum recession, and tooth loss.

Scaling tools and ultrasonic cleaners are available online. Can’t I just clean my own teeth?

They are, and - technically - yes, that’s something you can do.

The difference is that it’s “can” and - in almost all cases - not “should”.

While professional cleaning tools are readily available, it takes years of training and experience for registered dental hygienists to learn how to effectively use them to clean someone else’s teeth, and that’s with the help of professional instruction and practice settings.

During cleanings, all you really notice is a scraping sensation, but there’s a lot of on-the-fly decision making that goes into it.

Your hygienist needs to be able to adjust pressure while working around fillings and other restorations; carefully pull tartar out from under the gum line instead of pushing it further in; and avoid damaging enamel and gum tissue by using too much force.

Now imagine accounting for all of that while working on your own mouth in a mirror — it’s a tall order!

Consider that, even among dentists and hygienists, it’s practically unheard of for people to clean their own teeth. In most cases, hygienists will clean one another’s teeth as well as the teeth of the dentist(s).

So, while it’s possible for you to scale and polish your own teeth, it isn’t a simple decision and definitely isn’t a recommended one.

(After all, even if you’re able to clean your own teeth, you still won’t be able to self-assess your own mouth like a qualified dentist, and that’s half the purpose of coming in for a checkup.)

Why can’t I treat the dentist like a family doctor and just visit when I notice symptoms?

Now, to be 100% honest, you *can* treat the dentist like a family doctor and only visit when you notice symptoms.

As we explained earlier, though, that isn’t recommended because symptoms often only appear once a dental condition is in the late stages.

Acting on issues at that stage is a problem because: 

  1. You put more strain on your oral and overall health
  2. Sometimes one area needs to be treated before another one can be
  3. It’ll almost certainly end up costing you more money
  4. Some damage may be permanent or not entirely reversible

People call regular routine visits “dental cleanings”, but the reality is that - even though cleaning takes up most of the appointment time - the checkup portion is just as important.

It helps to uncover serious issues before they become serious, saving you time, money, and a whole lot of stress.

Recapping the importance of dental cleaning and checkups

Looking for quick summaries of the answers to each question? Here they are.

  • Why are checkups vital now when earlier generations managed without them?
    The modern diet, longer average lifespans, and societal norms each make regular dental care more important in modern times than at previous points in human history.
  • Why does dentistry need regular check ups while other medical areas don’t?
    Compared to other health specialties, where regular visits are ideal to optimize or improve daily comfort, checkups have added importance because they’re essential for preventing serious negative health outcomes.
  • Why can’t I buy professional tools and perform DIY at-home dental cleanings?
    Self-cleaning might work, but it would take a tremendous amount of practice and dedication to master. Plus, even if you mastered the cleaning skills of a hygienist, you’d still be missing the diagnostic expertise of a dentist.
  • Why can’t I visit the dentist when symptoms appear like with a family doctor?
    It’s possible to treat the dentist like a family doctor, but it isn’t recommended because symptoms of dental issues often only appear by the time an ailment has reached a critical late stage.

Getting dental checkups makes a difference!

Yes, we call them “regular” or “routine”, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable.

It takes a bit of time and money on your part, definitely, but you get back strong, healthy teeth and gums that are protected year after year.

If you’re looking for a Coquitlam dentist who’s open to answering your questions (even the tough ones!), we’d be glad to welcome you as a patient here at Glen Dental Centre.

You can get started by visiting our contact page and giving us a call or sending us a message online. There’s no pressure or obligation to book — even if you just have questions about our dental practice or treatments, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


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