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Is it necessary to rinse before a hygiene appointment?

I recently had a dental cleaning, and it was my first one since the COVID pandemic started. I know I’m long overdue, but I was surprised at how many things had changed since I last stepped foot in a dental office.

For example, the hygienist had me rinse with a little hydrogen peroxide at the start of the appointment. I don’t remember ever doing that before.

When I asked the hygienist about it, she said that she’s always asked her patients to rinse before starting the cleaning, even before the pandemic. She said this can help prevent viruses from spreading.

Is this true?

Thanks in advance for your answer.

— Christine from Alpharetta, GA

Hi Christine,

Yes, it’s true that rinsing with an antimicrobial agent before a dental cleaning can prevent the spread of viruses inside a dental practice.

The concern here is aerosol generation. Aerosols are microscopic droplets of water that are generated in a vapor during certain dental procedures. These droplets can suspend viruses in the air for several hours, transporting them around the entire office where they can be inhaled by others.

As dental professionals work in the mouth, they’ve always been concerned with preventing aerosol generation, but it’s become even more critical in the wake of the pandemic.

Here are some of the ways dental offices have been trying to limit aerosol generation and exposure to aerosols in recent times:

  • High-volume suction equipment
  • Special face shields
  • Treatment area barriers
  • Enhanced ventilation systems
  • Pre-procedural antimicrobial rinses

We’re here today to talk about that last point: pre-procedural rinses.

These rinses help control aerosols by making the droplets released less infectious. A rinse with hydrogen peroxide temporarily lowers the amount of harmful virus that may be present in the patient’s mouth. This means that when aerosols are generated during the appointment (such as when the hygienist uses an ultrasonic scaler), these vapors are less likely to transmit the virus to others in the practice.

The result is a safer environment for the care providers and for other patients in the practice.

In years past, it may not have been standard practice to require patients to rinse before a dental cleaning. But the practice has become more popular in dental hygiene programs of late, so you’re now more likely to meet a hygienist who asks you to rinse at the start of the appointment.

Of course, in view of the ongoing pandemic, it’s likely that this simple practice won’t be going away soon. In fact, it’s becoming mandatory in more dental practices across the country.

This post has been published on behalf of Owasso dentist Dr. Heng Lim.