The #1 thing that scares anxious patients the most about dentists are the tools – what dentists and dental teams refer to as instruments. It’s an understandable reaction. It’s not always clear what dental instruments are, they often look sharp or dangerous, and they’re going in your mouth. Even the truly routine, regular check-up instruments can be more than a little intimidating.
Ultimately, we think the reason why dental instruments seem so scary is because they’re unknowns. That’s why we’re explaining each and every one of the instruments we use during a routine check-up. Once you understand how the dentist uses the instrument, you’ll see that it’s nothing to worry about. When you’re at a routine check-up, you’re going to see:
Explorers and probes
A dental explorer is a handheld metal stylus about the size of a pen. It has a thin, hook-like tip on either one or both ends. Dentists use explorers to look for cavities, fractures, and plaque and to check the condition of restorations like fillings, crowns, and bridges. During the part of the exam when the dentist checks each tooth one-by-one, we are using the explorer.
Periodontal probes have rings marked in millimeter increments on their thin tips. They are used to measure gum recession and gum pockets and to check gum health. Most periodontal probes are straight, but they also come in other shapes to check hard to reach places. A periodontal probe is probably the first instrument you’ll see your hygienist use at the beginning of their work.
The handle of a dental mirror is about the same size and shape as that of the explorer and probe. The small circular mirror on the end of the handle is small enough to comfortably fit inside a patient’s mouth.
Dentists use dental mirrors to look at parts of the mouth that are hard to see otherwise. It enables them to reliably see plaque and other problems on the back of your teeth. The mirror is designed to be usable from as many angles as possible. Your dentist will usually use a mirror during most procedures, including exams, fillings, and cleanings.
The handle of a dental scaler is about the same size as that of the explorer, probe and dental mirror. In fact, scalers look very similar to explorers because they also have hook-like fixtures on their ends. While explorers are designed to help find decay, scalers have thicker tips and are designed to remove tartar and plaque from the teeth.
When plaque hardens into tartar (also known as calculus), it can’t be removed by brushing and flossing. Dentists and hygienists use scalers to scrape away built-up calculus from the teeth, especially calculus that’s above the gum line. It’s very difficult to remove calculus without a dental professional’s help, which is one reason why dental cleanings are so important.
Dentists and dental staff members work with two main types of suction devices that use different levels of suction. The saliva ejector is a hollow plastic tube with a perforated cap on the end that uses a low level of suction. It has a wire inside the tube that allows it to be bent into a J-shape that can hang over your lower teeth and not require someone to hold it. It connects to a vacuum-like device, making it work as a vacuum head. Saliva and water sucked up by the saliva ejector travel out of the mouth through the tube to help keep your mouth relatively dry during treatment.
Dentists and dental staff members also use more powerful high-volume suction to remove large amounts of water as well as pieces of tartar, tooth, or old fillings. It’s often used when the dentist uses the dental drill, which sprays a lot of water. A saliva ejector can’t remove those larger fragments or that volume of water.
We also use suction to remove excess paste after polishing your teeth.
The air/water syringe is a handheld, stainless steel device with a long, thin nozzle at the end. The user can squirt air and/or water out of the nozzle, or press both buttons to produce a spray of water mixed with air. The spray and its intensity can be controlled by varying the amount of pressure used to push down on the air and water buttons.
Dentists, assistants, and hygienists use water spray to help remove debris and other materials. During cleanings, they may ask you to swish around the water they spray into your mouth to help remove the polishing paste from your teeth. After squirting water, they will often suck that water up with one of the suction devices. The air spray is used to dry the tooth or teeth in order to better see what’s going on in the mouth.
Polisher and Prophy Cup
A dental polisher is a stainless steel wand hooked up to a power supply. The tip of the wand rotates quickly when activated with a foot pedal. During a prophylaxis (cleaning), a disposable prophy cup is affixed to the rotating tip. Prophy cups are small, soft rubber cups with a hollow area for polishing paste.
Dentists and hygienists put polishing paste in the prophy cup during the polishing step of the cleaning. By rotating the head of the polisher, the mildly abrasive paste is worked onto all the surfaces of the teeth to remove plaque and polish the teeth. The soft prophy cup ensures the teeth aren’t hurt by the polisher’s quick rotation. The result is a polishing procedure that’s safe, painless, and effective.
Next time you’re at your dental appointment, feel free to have us point out any of these instruments. We’d be happy to show you how they work and how we’re going to use them during your check-up.
Have any other questions or concerns? Afraid of another instrument we might have to use during another operation? No problem! ImmediaDent is always available to answer your questions and put your mind at ease. Just call or come in today for service you can count on.