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The question

My dentist wants me to have my teeth cleaned every four months - in part, I think, so he can max out my benefits. I haven't had any dental issues apart from a couple of cavities when I was a kid. How often do I really need to see my dentist?

The answer

While it depends on the health of your gums and teeth, in general it's recommended to see your dentist or dental hygienist every six months for a cleaning.

Regular cleaning can help to identify gum disease, screen for other oral diseases and can be an opportunity to discuss ways to prevent gum disease and tooth decay. Dentists may recommend more frequent cleaning if you are at greater risk for periodontal disease, which may be related to age, personal oral-hygiene practices, or medical conditions like diabetes, HIV or use of certain medications.

Professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist clean in ways that regular home care cannot: It removes the soft buildup on your teeth called plaque as well as hard deposits, such as tartar, calculi and stains.

Plaque and tartar buildup can lead to periodontal disease that can cause inflammation of the tissues or gums (i.e. gingivitis) or the bones (i.e. periodontitis) that surround and support the teeth. Once these conditions have developed, they can be challenging to treat. The best protection is prevention, with regular cleaning, avoiding smoking and practising good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing regularly at home.

Your concern about the frequency of cleaning is valid. I'd suggest having a discussion with your dentist to clarify why he recommended this schedule for you. There might, for instance, be a concern about your oral-hygiene routine, your age or other medical conditions. If early changes related to periodontal disease have been noticed, frequent cleaning may be suggested to closely monitor and prevent further progression. Ultimately, the schedule of cleaning is your decision, so the more information you can gather from your own research and from your dentist, the more informed choice you can make for your dental health.

Send family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.