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Damage from Ultrasonic Scaling?

I am wondering if my dental hygienist may have damaged my teeth using an ultrasonic scaler.  I apologize that this post is a bit lengthy, but I figure giving you details up front will mean fewer clarifying questions and more useful responses in the long run.  First, I'll explain my experience and then I explain what I have experienced in the time since my cleaning.

At my dentist's office, I generally see whichever hygienist is able to take me because my availability around work doesn't allow me to be too picky.  At my last visit, I was seen by a new hygienist I had never had before.  She was new to the office and looked quite young (perhaps not long out of school).  Once I was in the chair, she proceeded to clean my teeth with an ultrasonic scaler.  I had never had my teeth cleaned this way before, but I assumed she knew what she was doing.  She did not ask me if this was alright, she did not explain what this process entailed, and she insisted that it was the most effective way for her to clean the build-up along my gum line.

What followed was about 40 minutes of the most excruciatingly painful dental cleaning I have ever had.  I do not have particularly sensitive teeth and, while I can't say I have ever found the experience of getting my teeth cleaned to be pleasant, I have never been so close to getting out of the seat and walking out of the dental office.  I'm talking digging my nails into the armrest, squeezing my eyes shut, twisting my body, tensing every muscle sort of pain/discomfort here.  When I left, my mouth was sore and I was determined to avoid having an appointment with this hygienist ever again, but it never crossed my mind that she may not have been using this tool properly or could have actually caused damage to my teeth.

However, in the time since this cleaning I have looked closely at my teeth and become quite concerned.  Let me preface this by saying that my dentist and hygienists have always complimented me on my clean, white teeth and I have taken pride in having a smile that makes many think I have had braces before (I haven't).  Now, when I examine my teeth, I can see areas where the color varies dramatically.  Also, my gum line seems to have receded on the back side of my lower teeth.  The majority of the surfaces of my teeth remain the same color they have always been, a slightly off-white shade, but certain areas are much darker (an even more off off-white I guess you'd call it?).  Specifically, if I look along the back side of my lower front teeth, the abutting edges between my teeth and the U-shaped curves where my teeth enter my gums are all significantly darker in color than the rest of the surfaces.  Also, on the fronts of my teeth, particularly in spots near the gum line where two teeth meet, there are areas that have also become discolored compared to the rest of my teeth.

I am about to turn 30, have always had great teeth, haven't had a cavity since I was 16, have never had any issues with serious discoloration, and have gone in for regular cleanings since I was 8.  In my last cleaning before this, I had no issues, the dentist said everything looked great, and I haven't changed anything in my diet or cleaning habits.  Having done some reading/research on ultrasonic scaling, resources say it should be a relatively quick procedure compared to manual cleaning, should require a minimal application of pressure, and should cause little to no pain or discomfort.  My experience was much different.  This appointment took LONGER than my normal manual cleaning appointments, I felt like the tool was going to pull my teeth out of my mouth, and I was writhing in pain as if I were getting a root canal with no local anesthetic.

Could this hygienist have been using an improper cleaning technique with the ultrasonic scaler?  If so, could she have actually caused serious damage to my teeth?  It's been a while since this cleaning occurred and, while my mouth no longer hurts like it did immediately afterward, I do experience greater sensitivity to temperature than I used to.  I'm concerned about what the long term implications could be.  Has anyone else ever had a similar experience?  Am I over reacting?  Does anyone know for certain whether this sort of thing could result from the improper use of an ultrasonic scaler?  What should I do at this point?

Not sure how helpful/clear the photo will be to you.  It's tricky to get a picture of the back side of one's teeth, but I think you will be able to see the discoloration and gum recession I was describing.
8 Responses
Avatar universal
Hi. I'm a dental hygienist and most certainly understand how you are feeling.


Could this hygienist have been using an improper cleaning technique with the ultrasonic scaler?  If so, could she have actually caused serious damage to my teeth?
Yes I do believe she was doing entire thing wrong. It's not supposed to feel bad at all. Water comes out of the tip to help with discomfort and to flush out your gum. She could have not used enough water if the tip felt warm or hot. It can cause more recession if done wrong and patients will not be pleased. She probably used the incorrect tip as well. Some are used where all surfaces of the tip are active(Ultrasonic) and some where only the sides of the tip are active (Piezoelectric).

What should I do at this point?
I would contact them about her and see if anyone else she has treated has had the same response and take it from there. There is no reason you should go in for a cleaning and come out with a mouth that's worse from before.
Avatar universal
Thank you for your input on this. I think I will follow your advice and contact their office to see if I am the only person to complain about this or similar issues. The actual process of getting my teeth cleaned is never something I look forward to (although, I do love the particularly clean feeling afterward), but this was an entirely new level of "discomfort".
Avatar universal
I am also a dental hygienist and I do not agree with the above hygienist given the following reasons A.) we can not answer this question correctly because we do know the exact general health of your gum. B.) we also do not know if your prior hugienist where properly cleaning your teeth which could live to sub gingival calculus build up that you can not see with your eye but your hygienist can feel with instruments or locate on dental radiograph. I would also say that she was most likely using a universal tip as most dentist are way to cheap to order spicific tips as they are expensive. Why this is important is because a universal tip can not be used wrong all ends are working end (hence universal). The discoloration of the teeth can most certainly not be cause from an untrasonic it is infant amazing at removing staining. As for the discoloration that you are noticing here is my "guess" past hygienist probably have not cleaned your teeth well which lead to inflammation of the gum which can cause swelling and the gum line will appear higher up. While this inflammation is taken place it can be effecting your connective tissue support and bone. Once the inflammation is reduced through a very thorough cleaning the gum then (we hope) will form healthy reattacment. In many cases because of the loss of bone the reattament can be lower which would then show the root of your tooth which is naturally yellow in color. Senisitivity to cold is normal after a cleaning with the ultrasonic as it is removing the plaque and biofilm layer from your teeth which act as "insulation". I almost always recommend to my or to use a tooth paste specifically for sensitivity after using he ultrasonic as the potassium nitrate in the toothpaste will "re-insulate" the pour in your teeth the transmit pain to the nerve and fluoride  to help re-strengthen the enamel.  Do not be so quick to judge his girl because she is young. My guess she was left with the dirty work of poor cleaning before you. No hygienist wants to ultrasonic scale a patient for 40 min for no reason especially given the short time frame we have with out patients. And truthfully how is your home care? And how is your flossing? Some dentist like to play nice guy and they can lie. I see it everyday after I just worked my *** off cleaning someone's  teeth with poor home care and they come in and fail to address the gum disease and tell them everything looks great.  So please before you go and points fingers at this particular hygienist do your research on your previous hygienist because I myself have been blamed for being the "bad guy" when I was just cleaning up after someone's dirty work!
2 Comments
Do not trust what this person is saying.  Lots of damage can be done during a simple dental cleaning.  I have had at least two dental cleanings yearly my entire adult life.  Six months ago a new dental hygienist  did a dental cleaning that removed so much enamel I now need about $20,000.00 of dental work, including caps on many of my teeth and root canals.  Right before my teeth were "cleaned" I had a full set of X-rays that indicated my teeth were in good health (and they felt fine).  Same dentist I'd had for 25 years -- so the fact that sudden massive damage was done by a teeth cleaning was obvious.
Michelle, why are you here?  How did you happen upon this page?  Is it because you have had your own suspicions about the ultrasonic scaler?  Is it because of the increase in damaged teeth that you have been seeing?  Is it because inside the dental community, people are beginning to talk about the damage caused by ultrasonic scaling?  

You are here for a reason, and I think you were looking to see if patients were beginning to talk about this.

I would not expect you to answer this, as an admission would open that liability door, but if any of what I said is true, and if you are as I suspect a person with a conscience, then please create a new anonymous account and tell the truth.  
Avatar universal
Specifically, if I look along the back side of my lower front teeth, the abutting edges between my teeth and the U-shaped curves where my teeth enter my gums are all significantly darker in color than the rest of the surfaces.  Also, on the fronts of my teeth, particularly in spots near the gum line where two teeth meet, there are areas that have also become discolored compared to the rest of my teeth.  

As for the dental hygienist above who was so quick to judge. You and I both know he is talking about the lingual of #22-27 where majority of calculus build up. And to say she was using the tip wrong. Come on the discoloration he is noticing is because the calculus has been removed and he is now noticing the actual natural shade of his teeth. That I am guessing have either been covered in tarter for quite sometime. Or he has never really taken the time to look prior to this cleaning to notice the tarter build up. I still will never understand how patients fail to brush the lingual a of #22-27. I feel like my life is wasting away scaling calcus of of those teeth. I am still set on my original option that this hygienist may have been to forceful ,should have taken the time to explain to you what she was doing, and if you where in that much pain should have used a topical anesthesia.
Avatar universal
How brainwashed is the public when it comes to teeth cleanings?  I've had my teeth cleaned 2-3x a year since I was a child.  I've slowly begun to realize that it is mostly the teeth cleanings that have scraped off areas of enamel on my teeth.  Having my teeth polished after each teeth cleaning also removed enamel (as the dental hygienist society now admits).  I've also noticed that when I absolutely forbid any dental hygienist from scraping around the gum line on one particular tooth, all the gum recession stopped on that tooth.  I'm tired of the excuses of dentists that they are just removing dangerous tartar build up, not dental enamel.  That's a lie.  So is the lie that sticking an explorer into your gum line doesn't cause permanent damage.  The dental profession likes to claim your gum line only appears to recede after a dental cleaning because it used to be swollen.  Well, if a swollen gum was protecting my tooth root, I don't want the swelling to go down.  Likewise, maybe some calculus is actually deposited by the tooth as a form of protection where the tooth is weak.  Studies that indicate even tartar may protect teeth (such as Weston Price's examining the mouth's of Swiss villagers with lots of tartar and no cavities) tend to get forgotten and/or suppressed.  My mother never got teeth cleanings and her teeth are fantastic.  I get a lifetime of teeth cleanings and I've had several root canals and jaw surgeries.  
Avatar universal
As I am not young, I have experienced the pros and cons of new developments in dentistry.  I used to have ultrasound cleaning until I got great sensitivity in my bottom second molar.  So, I look at it and I saw a white groove on the front of the tooth following the gum line.  I went to the dentist and he did a filling, but the pain was increasing with time... I changed dentists, and the new one wanted to remove that tooth, as he said that due to the curve of the roots, there was no possibility of a success with a root canal.  I didn't like the idea of removing the tooth, but after two years the infection developed and that molar was removed.  Then few later, I found out what was that white groove :  the enamel in the area following the line of the gum had collapsed thanks to tooth cleaning using ultrasound and was showing the dentin.  How did I have discover it? A vet wanted to clean the teeth of my cat.  So before going ahead I start to investigate on the internet and there was a vet who was puzzled about painful grooves in teeth of cats brought to him and he reckoned it was either the consequence of tooth cleaning or hard food or both.  From then on I clean my teeth with a paste of bicarbonate of soda and few drops of lemon juice, a tooth brush, interdental brushes and an electric tooth brush.  If I would need the professional work I would go to someone that would use manual hand scaling instruments.
Avatar universal
I had similar experiences:  my #11 tooth became inflamed for 1 week right after a rigorous ultrasonic cleaning. I was puzzled so I asked the opinions of 3 different dentists. Two recommended root-canal, crown and post for my #11 tooth, the 3rd dentist told me to brush with Sensodyne toothpaste. I followed the 3rd advice, and that #11 tooth is now perfectly fine after 18+ years.

The SAME dental hygienist also chipped another front tooth a few years later with her ultrasonic scaler. She kept the scaler in one spot thus grinding down the enamel. Below is a link where others also voiced the same concern about ultrasonic scaler damaging the enamel if done carelessly:
Avatar universal
youtube[d0t]com/watch?v=_DxVqNVuc-k

"Often, dentists use ultrasound scanners to remove the discoloration caused by excessive tea, coffee or nicotine. This however, leads to the loss of tooth surface and a better way of removing discoloration is bleaching."

"loss of tooth surface". Such as enamel.

"As such, it has been proven that an ultrasound scanner should be used only for plaque removal and discoloration of teeth should be treated with bleaching."

My dentist never warned me about this before blasting my stains from my teeth with the ultrasonic. Now my lower incisor is sensitive all the time, and the tartar grew back worse after the cleaning.
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