Dental hygienists use a variety of tools to clean and care for a patient's teeth and gums. Using dental instruments, the hygienist scrapes built-up plaque and tartar from teeth and below the gum pocket. Plaque and tartar build-up can lead to tooth decay, as well as gingivitis and other periodontal diseases.
An ultrasonic scaler is a mechanical hand tool used to remove plaque and tartar from the teeth. The machine creates ultrasonic vibrations with loosen the plaque and tartar so that they can be easily washed away or scraped off. An ultrasonic scaler usually has a component that sprays a cool mist to keep the area moist and aid in removing tartar. The end of the ultrasonic scaler is curved like a hand scaler to better fit along the curve of a tooth. Ultrasonic cleaners are usually the first tool used during a dental cleaning, since they can remove and loosen a large amount of plaque and tartar in a fairly short amount of time, because of the ultrasonic vibrations.
A hand scaler is a thin metal tool with two sharp, curved ends. The sharp ends match the curve of the teeth. Hand scalers come in several sizes to fit the different sizes of teeth. A dental hygienist disinfects and sharpens hand scalers before use for optimal effectiveness. A hand scaler is more manoeuvrable than an ultrasonic scaler, and the hygienist has more control over the amount of pressure applied to remove build up. Hygienists remove plaque with a scaler by placing the curved edge of the scaler against the top of the tooth near the gum line, and using a short stroke down toward the biting end of the tooth with gentle pressure.
A curette and a hand scaler have similar shapes, but instead of a sharp tip the ends of a curette are blunt and curved. A hygienist uses a curette to access plaque or tartar that is below the gum line, within the gum pockets. The hygienist will insert the end of the curette into the gum pocket and scrape across and upward, to remove the build-up below the gums. Curettes are metal and come in a variety of sizes.