Removing plaque without a visit to The Chair
August 27, 2009 7:59 AM   Subscribe

My question is two fold: is there a product on the market that can remove or at least loosen hardened plaque on the teeth? And, is there any actual damage being done to my teeth by just leaving the plaque there?

I have plaque build-up on the back of a few of my bottom teeth. Nothing is visible from the front. Last time I went to the dentist he told me I had to schedule a deep cleaning to get it off. That was, um... some time ago.

I brush regularly, floss and sometimes use mouthwash. I didn't take great care of my teeth in my school days but they are pretty healthy now, aside form this.

I am both broke and terrified of the dentist, due to my apparent tolerance to Novocaine (when I get work done, I have to get shots in the nerve. This really, really hurts. BAD.) and the general unpleasantness of it all, so I'm trying to avoid going in.
posted by caveat to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It will, over time, overtake and destroy the gum tissue on that side of your teeth. (no, that's not the correct medical term, but that's the gist of it)

Sadly, I know this from experience.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:04 AM on August 27, 2009

What deadmessenger said.

Get some Xanax to take the edge off the anxiety, eat and take Tylenol before you go.

Xanax + iPod = better dentistry experience

There was a thread about this recently and I looked for it but couldn't find it...
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:13 AM on August 27, 2009

Best answer: These are the only teeth you're ever going to have. Go to the dentist.

If you're concerned about money, a cleaning is a lot less expensive than the serious dental work you'd cause for yourself later by not going to the dentist.

If you're concerned about pain, a regular cleaning (which does not require anaesthetic) is a lot less painful/unpleasant than the fillings and gum disease you'd cause for yourself later by not going to the dentist.

In short, you're being stupid. By trying to avoid pain and expense, you're causing yourself to go through lots lots more pain and expense. Go to the dentist.
posted by ook at 8:13 AM on August 27, 2009 [7 favorites]

You need to bite the bullet, as it were, and go to the dentist. The longer you wait, the more it will cost. You might be looking at a visit to a periodontist, if you wait, and that REALLY is not pleasant.

Then invest in a Sonicare and a Perio Aid. (Even though the Perio Aid seems still stuck in the 1950's if their advertising is any indication.)

You just need to (wo)man up here and go and somehow pay it off down the road.
posted by Danf at 8:13 AM on August 27, 2009

Yes, dental debridement is a lot less expensive than gum grafts. Better to suffer through the pain of scraping (which is a relatively short procedure) than through the agony and aftermath of oral surgery.
posted by scarykarrey at 8:16 AM on August 27, 2009

I used to be really dentist-phobic, to the extent that I didn't visit a dentist for 17 years; I was lucky in that when I did finally pluck up the courage, I didn't need any work done other than a clean. I've never had plaque removed under anaesthetic, and I would doubt any dentist would do that. In fact, my dentist doesn't even do the cleaning himself - he delegates that to a dental nurse, because it's a very minor, routine procedure.

Once I'd managed to get myself past that initial fear I found it really easy to go regularly, and I still do. You'll be amazed how good your teeth feel afterwards.

I suppose it might be possible to arrange to see a dental nurse for the plaque removal, if that's all you want. It's generally completely painless - just a scraping sensation. But really, the best thing is to get a full check-up and clean as often as you can afford to - think of it as an investment that will prevent a much more costly (and unpleasant) intervention later in life.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 8:19 AM on August 27, 2009

Gum disease, bone loss, loose teeth, etc. Plaque is not harmless. And at a certain point, the damage becomes irreversible.

You can get (nearly) free cleanings at dental hygiene clinics. I know because my teeth got bad enough that I now need them cleaned 4 times a year.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:21 AM on August 27, 2009

Yeah. I just went through this. I have an irrational distrust of dentists (someone who wants to put their hands in people's mouths all day must be messed up.) I had to have the debridement, which was really expensive and really painful. Not only that, but in my case they didn't want to do both sides of my mouth at the same time, so I had one half of my mouth clean for a week and then the other. That felt insanely weird. So floss, and go to the dentist. And also, tell them up front that you don't do well with the pain and could they please really do something. They will.
posted by teleri025 at 8:22 AM on August 27, 2009

Lots of dentists now offer special treatment for those that suffer from anxiety about dental treatment. I got a bit of gas, eyemask and an ipod for my cleaning. It still sucked but worth it.
posted by like_neon at 8:43 AM on August 27, 2009

Best answer: You can help out your hygienist by purchasing a soft-metal pick and scraping the bulk of it away yourself. But, you can't see nor get at all of it from your perspective. There's just no way to look inside of your mouth from the outside. So, you still need the cleaning. Hey, it's only twice a year, right?

Treat yourself to something nice (ice cream?) for going through with the cleaning.

(After paying some $20k for Mrs. Citrus to have her teeth recombobulated, I no longer allow her to slack on the cleanings. You shouldn't, either.)
posted by Citrus at 8:51 AM on August 27, 2009

Just so you know what to expect, if your dentist called it a "deep cleaning", it might well require anesthetic. Also, if he called it "deep cleaning", you probably really, really need it to avoid serious gum disease. (I did.) I recommend taking the advice of other people in this thread about overcoming the anxiety. Don't fool yourself into thinking you can take care of this at home.
posted by dfan at 9:21 AM on August 27, 2009

I went for my first cleaning in 12+ years a few weeks ago. The very first time I went in I scheduled a consultation only with the dentist and explained that I was finally getting my act together but that I cannot handle the physical sensation of scraping on my teeth, and the mere thought of needles would cause me to lose my shit entirely. We discussed various methods for actually performing the cleaning, and sedation options for the procedure itself. During this entire discussion I was unworried because this was just a chat - no scraping or poking! - and I knew that I was free to walk the hell out at any second, which gave me complete control of the situation.

Once I had settled on nitrous as a sedative and decided that we were going to use an ultrasonic cleaner instead of the more typical scrapy-hook-thing, I made an appointment to have my actual dentist do the cleaning. In the end, I found that the nitrous didn't do a whole lot for me, but had decided to give it a shot anyway. The alternative was valium taken the night before (which I'll be doing next time). The ultrasonic cleaner was louder, but reduced the physical scrapey sensation - depending on what bothers you (the sound, the feeling, the environs, etc), YMMV. Further, they encouraged me to bring an iPod with some music on it. I found it to be alright, but I felt rude for having to turn it down and ask her to repeat her questions.

I got through it just fine, even if my muscles were a bit sore from being tensed for so long.

One side note - I got through the entire procedure on the first try, and my dentist mentioned that she was surprised I had made it. Well, I didn't realize that leaving was an option! So remember, if your dentist gets started and you don't think you'll make it, speak up! There's no law that says you have to get it all done in one go.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 9:30 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

to TheNewWazoo - be aware that there is an appliance the dentist can use to prop open your mouth. It goes on one side of the mouth while he works on the other, then switch when ready. It helps to relieve those sore muscles or any jaw issues while getting work done.
posted by CathyG at 9:45 AM on August 27, 2009

There is a technique that "sandblasts" with salt, and it's less annoying, or at least different than, scraping. Maybe you could find a dentist that does it that way.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:58 AM on August 27, 2009

This may or may not be relevant to the immediate cleaning issue, but whenever you get "novocaine", ask the dentist if there's an alternative - a fair number of people don't respond to it, and septocaine or other similar drugs works much better. I only found this out a few years ago, and it made dental work much better - I went from "eh, that's a little numb and tingly but OW OW HURTS NOW PLZ" to "can't feel a thing".
posted by spaceman_spiff at 10:03 AM on August 27, 2009

Find a dentist who works with people who are dentist-phobic and have pain trouble. My childhood dentist was mean. When I saw another dentist who was nice, gave Novocaine, and worked hard to keep me from hurting, I was amazed that it could be an okay experience. Plaque harbors bacteria, which is bad for teeth and gums, and could be bad for your heart. sorry, no cite.
posted by theora55 at 10:33 AM on August 27, 2009

Everyone is absolutely right, however you should really spend time looking for the right dentist. There are offices that really keep up with the latest technology and work hard to minimize pain and stress. Dentists are not equal. You owe to yourself and your teeth to find the right one. The more you go, the easier it is.
One more reason to keep your teeth clean: Plaque on teeth is linked to heart disease.
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 11:34 AM on August 27, 2009

I'm afraid of dentists for the exact same reasons as you, and we have the same bottom teeth issues. I have found a dentist here that uses ultrasonic sound to clean my teeth, it's not painful, it doesn't take too long and my teeth are so clean afterward it's like I have new ones! Find a dentist that uses that, ever since I fond my guy I look forward to going which is quite a shocker.
posted by dabitch at 11:47 AM on August 27, 2009

Nth-ing that you need professional cleaning. And if getting your teeth cleaned bothers you, you need to be getting it done *more* often, not less. If you keep your teeth from getting bad, the whole procedure can really be no-big-deal.

You'll still need to get through one initial nastier cleaning, though. Just work with your dentist. don't happen to be a redhead, do you?
posted by madmethods at 11:56 AM on August 27, 2009

Response by poster: I am auburn actually. How odd, I'd never heard of that before.

Thank you to everyone for the tips! It never occurred to me to take an iPod and that ultrasound technique makes me feel a whole lot better. I WILL be getting myself an appointment very soon. Heart disease linked to plaque... yikes.
posted by caveat at 12:35 PM on August 27, 2009

Find a dentist who will do some light freezing, possibly medicate you, and if you really hate the dentist, find one that'll give you laughing gas during the procedure - it's safe, doesn't require an anasthesiologist, and makes the experience a lot less stressful.

Get it fixed - it'll only get worse the longer you leave it.
posted by TravellingDen at 4:10 PM on August 27, 2009

Seconding buying a good electric toothbrush -- it reduced the plaque on my teeth greatly. Make yourself brush for a full two minutes at least once a day without fail. And floss daily.
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:02 PM on August 27, 2009

They can also give you nitrous oxide...they might be a bit reluctant if it's just a cleaning but it's worth it. Like...$60? Probably less.
posted by kathrineg at 10:27 PM on August 27, 2009

Wow, I have been through this, I also have red hair and dentistry is like torture. But you have to do this because it does affect your heart and will also lead to diabetes (because your body is in a constant state of infection in your gums). The sad part is gum infection, which I'm sure you have, makes the anesthetic less effective. It may help to get the killer prescription-only mouthwash from your dentist, start using it now to lessen infection before the procedure. You need a dentist that specializes in pain issues and has experience with redheads. Get general anesthesia if you have to, pay for it with credit cards. Do whatever it takes because this is going to save your life. And I promise, you are going to feel so much healthier. MeFi mail me if you need more support. I also use a mini-scalpel to scrape between dentist visits. The poky things at the drugstore don't work for me. Consider buying a professional scraping tool. (sorry I don't know where to get those, bought mine years ago)
posted by cda at 9:12 AM on August 28, 2009

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