What Happens During a Regular Teeth Cleaning?

You do your best every day to prevent cavities and gum disease through brushing, flossing, and
eating healthy. Right?

The truth is that even if you have all these healthy habits, professional teeth cleanings are still
important. Even the most vigilant of brushers and flossers have plaque in spaces that are just
impossible to reach without the right tools. People often don’t realize they can still have plaque
or tartar in their mouths after brushing.

Fortunately, a simple trip to the dentist can get your teeth sparkly clean and typically takes less
than an hour. What can you expect during your regular teeth cleaning?

Exam and Tartar Removal

The majority of dental cleanings are done by a trained and experienced dental hygienist. Before
the official cleaning process starts, the hygienist will check your mouth for tooth decay, gum
disease, and other potential concerns.

If evidence of gum disease is present, the hygienist will consult with your dentist who may
discuss the possibility of a deeper cleaning process, also called a root planing and scaling [1].

Almost everyone will accumulate tartar—the hardened version of plaque—on their teeth that
will need to be removed during their cleaning with a scaler, or, a tool that scrapes tartar and
plaque off the teeth.

Your dentist may also conduct an oral cancer screening during your appointment, which is a
simple physical exam that looks for signs of cancer in the mouth.

Teeth Cleaning and Polishing

Once the tartar and plaque removal is done in addition to the exam, your hygienist will apply a
grainy toothpaste to your teeth and use an electric brush to deeply clean your teeth and
remove any remains of plaque.

This process is also known as teeth polishing and will help restore the shine and smoothness of
your teeth. Although the gritty material is designed to scrub your teeth, using a gentler
toothpaste and a soft toothbrush at home will help protect your teeth and gums in between
cleanings.

Flossing

It may feel silly for a hygienist to floss your teeth, especially if you do floss regularly at home.
However, it’ll feel even better to have a professional floss your pearly whites to remove any
possible leftover plaque. This essential step gets your teeth squeaky clean!

Rinse and Fluoride Application

Once all the harmful bacteria and plaque have been removed from your teeth, you’ll get a full-
mouth rinse before your hygienist applies a fluoride treatment.

This fluoride treatment will protect against cavities in between your teeth cleanings. The
fluoride application is designed to harden after approximately one minute, so there are no
eating or drinking restrictions after your appointment. Fluoride will help keep your tooth enamel strong and may be applied in a liquid, gel, or even a foam form by your dentist.

The frequency of your dental cleanings should be determined by your dentist based on your
unique oral health [2]. Some patients may need cleanings more frequently, some will need to
come in less often. Your regular cleaning is an excellent time to ask your hygienist or dentist any
questions about cleaning your teeth or any symptoms you’re experiencing and can help you
have a healthy smile for life!

Sources:
1. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/s/scaling-and-root-planing
2. https://www.ada.org/en/press-room/news-releases/2013-archive/june/american-dental-association-statement-on-regular-dental-visits