The 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.
But 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.
Dental mirror or intraoral camera with screen
Dentists use both types of tools 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.
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 dental suction unit 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.
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.