One of the most important services our dentists provide is regular professional cleaning of your teeth. It’s not “just a cleaning and polishing.” Regular professional dental cleaning can help to not only keep your teeth healthy and free of cavities, but the rest of your body as well, because the mouth is often a breeding ground for bacteria and infections that can affect your overall health. Therefore we recommend regular professional cleanings at least once a year.
A dental cleaning removes buildups of plaque (a soft film often full of bacteria) and tartar (calcium and other deposits present in saliva) from your teeth. A cleaning usually involves prophylaxis (sometimes abbreviated as “prophy”), which is a thorough cleaning of tissues above the gum line. Prophylaxis (often fully covered by your dental insurance as a preventative measure) usually involves the gentle removal of plaque and tartar deposits, and polishing of the teeth.
If evidence of periodontal (gum) disease is found, a dental cleaning may also include scaling and planing (also known as deep teeth cleaning), in which specialized tools are used to scrape away hard deposits of tartar at the base of the teeth, both above and below the gum line.
What can you expect if you have your teeth cleaned by the dentist?
Dental cleanings may be performed by the dentist or by a trained dental hygienist. Most patients find the procedures painless, so anesthetic is rarely necessary. If you have sensitive teeth or gums, our dentists can if you like swab the areas they are working on with a topical anesthetic, to make the process more comfortable for you. Be sure to communicate any discomfort you feel to the dental worker.
The instruments used are primarily fine hand tools, specially designed to be able to access hard-to-reach areas of the teeth. But your dentist or hygienist may start by using an ultrasonic instrument to loosen large pieces of tartar, and then switch to hand tools for finer work. Once all of the tooth surfaces are clean and free of tartar and plaque, the dentist or hygienist may polish your teeth using a slow speed buffer that has a soft rubber rotating tip. The dental worker applies a bit of lightly abrasive toothpaste and then gently buffs the teeth.
Many patients enjoy their regular cleanings, and love how clean and smooth their teeth feel afterwards. But the most important benefit of a professional dental cleaning is preventative; having your teeth cleaned by a dentist can keep more serious problems from ever appearing.