Definition and Overview

Dental cleaning is a preventative procedure performed by dentists or dental hygienists to maintain or achieve optimum oral health. In a dental cleaning procedure, the dentist aims to remove the dental plaque and tartar that have accumulated on the teeth to protect them from cavities or dental caries as well as other tooth and gum problems. While teeth cleaning can be done at home using a toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss, each person still needs a deeper, more thorough cleaning that only a dentist can provide. This is because regular brushing and flossing cannot completely remove plaque and tartar that tend to stick to the surface of the teeth.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

All individuals are advised to undergo professional teeth cleaning at least once every six months for preventative maintenance. If the patient has existing oral problems or disorders, the cleaning should be done more frequently.

Also known as prophylaxis, the procedure removes mineralized plaque or tartar deposits on the teeth surface to prevent the dental problems they can cause when left undisturbed. These deposits can easily accumulate even when a person carefully and regularly brushes or flosses his teeth. Routine brushing may slow down the accumulation of plaque but cannot prevent it completely. The word prophylaxis comes from a Greek word that means “to prevent beforehand.”

Plaque is a soft, sticky film that is infested with bacteria. The long-term accumulation of plaque can easily lead to cavities and, eventually, to tooth decay. Tartar, on the other hand, are hard calcium deposits that build up over time in the same manner that limescale builds up on a kettle or water pipe. In most cases, it has the same color as the teeth, making it hard to notice for some people. In some cases, however, it has a brown or black color. If tartar is not removed, the teeth condition becomes ripe for the growth of bacteria. Through professional dental cleaning, the surface of the tooth is left clean and smooth so bacteria will have a hard time sticking to it.

The goals of regularly having teeth professionally cleaned are to:

  • Prevent cavities
  • Maintain good oral health
  • Prevent periodontal disease
  • Prevent too much tartar from building up
  • Remove surface stains

How Does the Procedure Work?

Professional dental cleaning can be performed either by a dentist or a dental hygienist. The procedure involves the use of three cleaning techniques:

  • Tooth scaling – Scaling is the process of removing the films or layers of substances that accumulate on the teeth surface.

  • Tooth polishing – Performed after scaling, polishing is the process of making the surface of the teeth smoother.

  • Debridement – Debridement is used when too much tartar has accumulated and scaling cannot remove them. Using this technique, the dental hygienist will use a variety of dental instruments to carefully loosen the deposits and remove them from the teeth.

Dentists and hygienists usually use the following tools or instruments when performing dental cleaning:

  • Ultrasonic instruments – These are instruments that use tickling vibrations to gently but effectively loosen up large pieces of tartar. At the same time, it sprays a cool mist of water to wash away the small debris as they come loose. Once the larger pieces have been removed, dentists usually change from ultrasonic instruments to finer hand tools.

  • Scalers or curettes – These are smaller hand tools that dentists use to manually remove smaller pieces of deposits. They are very effective in scraping off tartar and plaque.

  • Polisher – This is a hand tool with a soft rubber tip that slowly moves to polish the tooth surface.

  • Fluoride – Dentists may also apply some fluoride during a teeth cleaning. Available in foam or gel, fluoride helps to strengthen the teeth to compensate for the negative effects that plaque and tartar had on them. If fluoride is applied, the patient will be advised not to eat, drink, or rinse the mouth for at least 30 minutes after application.

Possible Complications and Risks

The process of a professional teeth cleaning does not cause pain, and it is generally comfortable, except for the length of time the patient has to sit with his mouth open. However, the process can be more uncomfortable for those who have plaque and tartar that are harder to remove. If hardened tartar has been removed, subsequent cleanings will take less time.

However, dental cleaning has to be done in a meticulous and careful manner. Thus, it is also important to find a dentist and dental hygienist that can be trusted and has all the necessary training and certification to practice. If the cleaning is done in an overly vigorous manner or it is incorrectly performed, there is a risk of causing injury to the gums, making the gums more vulnerable to infection. Injured gums also cause soreness, gingivitis (swelling and inflammation), and bleeding gums. There is also a risk of damaging the tooth enamel.

References:

  • American Dental Association. Action for Dental Health: Bringing Disease Prevention into Communities. A Statement from the American Dental Association. 2013. Available at: www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Public%20Programs/Files/bringing-disease-prevention-to-communities_adh.ashx. Accessed October 6, 2014

  • American Dental Association. Adults Under 40. Available at: www.mouthhealthy.org/en/adults-under-40. Accessed 10/29/14

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