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

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

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.

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?

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.

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.

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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.