How are teeth cleaned at the dental office? And how often should you visit the dentist for this procedure?

Henry Hackney

Written by Henry Hackney DMD, Nichole McKenna DDS, Namrita Harchandani DMD, Peter March DDS, Matthew Stewart DDS

A dental cleaning has the aim of removing “buildup” from your teeth. This doesn’t mean it’s only recommended for patients whose oral hygiene leaves a lot to be desired.

This “buildup” is not only food debris that most people manage to remove daily. No matter how vigorously you brush your teeth, plaque and tartar always build up and have to be removed at the dental office.

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Teeth cleaning procedure

Teeth cleaning procedure

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Teeth cleaning near me

Prevention is always cheaper than treatment. Remember to visit your dentist for regular teeth cleanings. If your last appointment took place more than a year ago, don’t put it ff. Reserve an appointment today.

We can help you pick the best specialist in your area. Authority Dental has an extensive database of experts in professional teeth cleaning. We’ll make sure to choose someone who has great reviews and affordable prices. The dentists near me service includes booking your visit.

Your insurance policy and preferred form of payment will be taken into account. We are available 24/7. Click here for more information.

FAQ

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

References

  1. Effect of monthly professional mechanical tooth cleaning on periodontal health in adults - Wiley Online Library
  2. Fluoride treatments in the dental office: Extra protection for your teeth - ScienceDirect