• Professional dental cleaning is important for maintaining good oral and overall health. You can't remove plaque and tartar at home.
  • The frequency of dental cleaning appointments depends on the condition of your mouth and oral health. A standard recommendation is cleaning twice a year.
  • Certain patients, such as those with diabetes, HIV/AIDS or gum disease, should make more frequent appointments.
  • Get your smile ready for anything. Use Authority Dental to find 24hr dentist near you. It’s simple, secure and free.

Need a professional dental cleaning? Here's everything you need to know.

Teeth cleaning procedure

Adult dental cleaning

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

A standard teeth cleaning, otherwise called a prophylaxis, is a routine dental procedure. Special tools are used to remove plaque, calculus, and stains from the surface of teeth above the gum.

Dental cleaning is appropriate for primary, transitional, and adult dentition. This appointment will likely include an exam performed by the dentist along with some X-rays.

The procedure is often conducted by a dental hygienist working under a dentist's supervision. The entire process usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes.

Preliminary chat

You should let the dental professional know if there have been any changes to your dental history or whether you are taking any medication. You will then be given instructions and information on what’s going to happen. An X-ray, for example a bitewing, might also be taken.

Periodontal charting

This step can also be referred to as periodontal probing. The hygienist will measure the depth of your gum pockets with a special tool. The ideal depth is between 1-3 mm, while any more than that might mean you have periodontitis or gingivitis.


If your gum pockets are within the norm, the dental professional will use an ultrasonic scaler and/or hand instruments to remove plaque and tartar from the surface of your teeth. You might hear some scraping, that is completely normal.


A gritty toothpaste (you can usually pick the flavor) will be used to polish your teeth. Afterward, an air polisher might be used to smooth them out even more.


A teeth cleaning is a great opportunity for an expert flossing session. All contact areas will be cleaned.

Fluoride treatment

A combination of a rinse that contains liquid fluoride, trays, and/or fluoride varnish might be used to remineralize the dentition.

How often should you have your teeth cleaned?

Depending on the state of your mouth (your everyday oral hygiene and how often you visit your dentist) you might need a regular or a deep cleaning.

A standard cleaning is a minor and very common procedure that should be performed twice a year. The appointments may need to be more frequent for those who are:

  • smokers,

  • diabetics,

  • under significant stress,

  • taking medication that causes dry mouth,

  • affected by HIV/AIDS or cancer,

  • experiencing orthodontic issues,

  • pregnant, or

  • those who have a history or gum disease or take oral contraceptives.

Namrita Harchandani

Namrita Harchandani, DMD

You may also need extra appointments throughout the year if you have significant dental restorations such as crowns, bridges, or implants. Those with crowded teeth should also come in more often.

In the case that you suffer from receding gums, you may need scaling and root planing or even more invasive procedures, like debridement or surgical intervention.

Is professional tooth cleaning necessary?

Comprehensive dental exam

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

Yes. A professional teeth cleaning is crucial, both to your oral and general health. It cannot be equaled by the best oral hygiene conducted at home. About half an hour after you finish any meal or snack your saliva production slows. The pH of your mouth allows a certain kind of bacteria to thrive.

Nichole McKenna

Nichole McKenna, DDS

Dental professionals will not be able to do as good job if the patient is not doing their part daily.

The bacteria consume the starch and sugar left behind after the food you ate. They will digest it and excrete a shiny film called plaque that will cover your teeth. This gives them a hiding spot, safe from brushing and mouth rinsing. They also produce lactic acid, which begins eroding the enamel, causing cavities.

The only way to remove calculus (hardened plaque) is to have your teeth professionally cleaned.

What’s more, covering the cost of teeth cleaning regularly can help prevent the need for more expensive medical procedures. A cosmetic dentist may offer treatment such as teeth whitening to repair damage from neglect. But this can be avoided since teeth cleaning helps to remove stains.


How long does a dental cleaning take?

A prophylactic cleaning can take between 30 minutes up to an hour.

How to relieve pain after dental cleaning?

If you practice regular oral hygiene at home, complete with brushing and flossing, a cleaning should cause minimal discomfort. Sensitivity and pain are reactions that concern patients who neglect to take care of their mouths as advised by the ADA.

In the case that you are highly sensitive to pain or suffer from dental anxiety you can take an OTC painkiller before your appointment or ask for anesthetic. It is also a good idea to switch to a desensitizing toothpaste or mouth rinse a few weeks prior to your appointment. Try not to not eat acidic foods like citrus fruits. Hot and cold foods can also cause you pain directly after a cleaning.

What teeth cleaning tools do dentists use?

Your dentist will use an ultrasonic scaler to remove any plaque, tartar, or calculus from your teeth with minimal physical interference. If this is not enough, the process is repeated with hand instruments. These dental cleaning tools are only taken advantage of in extreme cases.

What does a teeth cleaning kit contain?

DIY dental cleaning kits can be purchased online. They often contain a dental pick, a scaler, a rubber stimulator, and a dental mirror. Using these may be a good idea in emergencies, for example when something gets stuck in your teeth or gums causing discomfort.

Otherwise, you are probably better off investing in rubber instruments or a water flosser to prevent damage to your teeth from handling these without experience.

How is dental cleaning related to general health conditions?

Neglecting dental care can lead to general health conditions, just as those conditions can lead to poor oral health. In particular, foregoing these appointments has been linked to heart disease.

Other general conditions that make themselves apparent in the mouth include asthma, cancer, HIV or AIDS, obesity, diabetes, as well as kidney, lung, and liver disease.