Q&A With Dental Hygienist Ashley McCavanagh

Why is it important to get teeth cleaning twice a year, instead of just once a year? What part do dental hygienists play in making sure your child is comfortable and at ease during their first dentist appointment? What do dental x-rays tell a dentist about your teeth? All of these burning questions and more were answered by Midlothian Dental Center’s very own dental hygienist, Ashley McCavanagh.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself. Who’s behind the scrubs?

I have been in dentistry for over 30 years. My first job in high school was at a local dentist, and I did everything from the front desk to assist. I continued working this job part-time and in the summer while I was in college. So dentistry is the ONLY job I have ever had.A little bit more about me… I have one daughter, who is a nurse practitioner at VCU, and she and I love spending time with our extended family. In the summer you can usually find me hanging out with my siblings and their families—as well as our aunts and uncles—in the country at my dad’s pool.

Q: What’s your favorite part about being a dental hygienist?

I love getting to know my patients. A lot of them end up feeling like family over time. It's fun to motivate and encourage people to improve their oral health and see the results.

Q: Give us the scoop… What do you know about the dentists here that patients don't know?

Their best work goes unnoticed. They don't want you to feel a thing! I am lucky to work with incredibly smart, kind, and talented dentists. We have all the latest and greatest technology at our fingertips. On a more serious note, they have gone above and beyond this year to keep our staff and our patients safe.

Q: Here’s our burning question: Do you already know whether we have been flossing or not? What do you REALLY want to say to patients when you know they haven't been flossing?
  1. Your gums don't lie. It is usually pretty obvious to us if people are flossers.
  2.  BUY A WATERPIK! I have spent years trying to get people to floss and for some people, it is just never going to happen. The solution is to find something that they will use on a regular basis to clean those hard-to-reach areas.
Q: What’s one thing that we should be doing for our dental care at home that most people don’t realize they should do? Can you tell me the difference that makes?

Brushing and flossing before bed. At night we tend to breathe through our mouths and we also don't salivate as much as we do during the day. This means that any plaque or food debris from the day gets stickier and more acidic. Most everyone brushes in the morning to prevent bad breath, but nighttime is as important in preventing cavities and hard build-up.

Q: Why is it important to do a cleaning TWICE yearly instead of once a year?

Every six months is the minimum! Even the best brushers and flossers start to accumulate build up below the gum line and in between their teeth over time. Regular cleanings help remove harmful bacteria that can lead to tooth decay, periodontal disease, and bone loss. Some patients may need to come 3 or even 4 times a year. Conditions such as diabetes, pregnancy, or periodontal disease often require shorter intervals to maintain oral health.Another very important part is getting an oral cancer exam. We always check for any unusual lumps, bumps, or lesions on your tongue, cheeks, face, and neck.

Q: A lot of people are nervous at the dentist… how do you put them at ease? Is it important for someone to tell you if they have anxiety about their dental appointment?

Always let us know if you are feeling anxious about your visit! I am more than happy to spend extra time talking with patients or explaining procedures. My priority is for you to feel comfortable during your visit with us. I will be your biggest cheerleader throughout the entire appointment and celebrate your success at the end.

Q: What are your own habits for keeping your teeth healthy?
  1. Electric toothbrush (much more efficient than manual) - my favorite is the OralB Braun.
  2. Non-abrasive toothpaste with fluoride - currently using Sensodyne True White.
  3. I floss twice a day - my favorite floss is Reach Ultraclean.
  4. Mouthwash - Listerine Healthy white, fluoride to help prevent decay and peroxide to keep the coffee and red wine stains away!
  5. Nightguard at bedtime is a must for me. A lot of people grind their teeth at night and I am one of them. Grinding leads to wear on the biting surfaces and can cause cracks and broken teeth over time. 
Q: Are you a Midlothian Dental patient too?? What’s it like when YOU are the patient? (Do you love it?)

I am! I LOVE getting my teeth cleaned. Getting cavities filled isn't at the top of my list but our dentists are awesome and there is zero pain involved. If only I could invent something to reverse the numbness after the procedure is done!

Q: How do you make kids more comfortable at the dentist?

I love seeing the little people. I am also a pro at making glove balloons with funny faces. Our operatories have TVs, so finding the favorite cartoon for entertainment helps a ton and if that doesn't work, I have been known to offer bribes of stickers and extra toys. The first visit is the most important. I want them to see me as their friend. Sometimes that means we only take a quick look and spend the rest of our time playing and having fun. Usually, by the second visit, they are excited to come back and are the perfect little patients.

Q: When you look at an x-ray, what do you see that I don’t?

We see bone levels, changes in density, cavities, infections, restorations, root canals, crowns, defects, resorption, impacted teeth… Most patients see their x-rays and say "My teeth look like toes!"We hope you enjoyed this Q&A session with dental hygienist Ashley McCavanagh. If you have any questions about an upcoming appointment or service, please feel free to give our office a call at (804) 794-4588.

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