When you visit your dental office for a cleaning appointment, the dentist/dental hygienist will remove both soft deposits (plaque) and any hard deposits (calculus) that may be present. Many people can maintain a healthy mouth by having a cleaning (prophylaxis) only twice per year. Others need more frequent cleanings such as every three or four months.
Plaque is a thin, sticky matrix made up of dead skin cells from the inside lining of the mouth (mucosa) and bacteria, lots and lots of bacteria! Hard build-up is also known as tartar. Tartar forms when soft plaque is not removed from a surface for too long, usually forming in between teeth. Calcium occurs naturally in everyone’s saliva. This calcium deposits into the soft plaque left on the teeth and hardens it into tartar
By cleaning and polishing the surfaces of the teeth, they become smoother. When your teeth are smooth and clean, it is much more difficult for the bacterial plaque to adhere. This in turn reduces the likelihood of gum disease and reduces the conditions for tooth decay to occur. Having your teeth cleaned and polished by the dentist/dental hygienist also removes that annoying feeling when your tongue touches the rough sides and edges of the teeth in your mouth. It also makes it much more difficult for bits of food to stick to the tooth, giving that unsightly smile.
How are dental cleanings performed?
Your dentist/dental hygienist will use specialized instruments to remove plaque and tartar without damaging your teeth or gums.
A popular way to clean teeth safely is to use an ultrasonic scaler which creates small vibrations across the surface of the teeth. The vibrations dislodge the tartar which then falls away. The device also sprays a very fine water jet which further removes any of the unwanted calcium deposits which remain between your teeth. The tips of the ultrasonic instrument are curved and rounded. These are moved continuously around the teeth so as to not apply too much pressure for too long in any one spot. Sometimes you may feel the vibration is a little too strong and in this case you simply let your hygienist know and he/she will apply a little less pressure and perhaps glide the instrument across the tooth a little more quickly.
With very stubborn and hard deposits, it can take some time to remove them with the ultrasonic. It’s no different from a frying pan which has stubborn burnt bits which have become encrusted. It just takes longer to clean the pan.
After your ultrasonic cleaning, your dentist/dental hygienist will check your teeth and start to use a range of instruments called hand scalers and curettes. Gently they will start to make sure that the surfaces of your teeth are smooth by removing any smaller deposits of tartar which may remain.
With the surfaces of your teeth nice and smooth, your hygienist will now move onto the final stage which is polishing. Your hygienist will use a special paste (like a coarse toothpaste) on a polishing tool which slowly rotates a soft polishing cup over your teeth, leaving your teeth smooth and shiny for that lovely smile.
Sometimes if your dental hygienist sees it to be necessary, they may also use fluoride which is dosed with a nice tasting flavor. Fluoride is used if the dentist sees that the surfaces of your teeth have been weakened by the acids from build-up of the tartar and plaque. A fluoride treatment will strengthen and protect the surfaces of your teeth. This treatment is straightforward and takes only about a minute. You will then be instructed to refrain from eating for a half hour.
If you do feel any discomfort
Most people find that cleanings do not create any pain. Just a mild tickling sensation from the ultrasonic instrument is sometimes felt for a few hundredths of a second. However, if you do feel any discomfort, it is best to simply raise your hand. Your dentist/dental hygienist will know to apply a little less pressure and instead, pass the instrument more quickly but several times over the teeth. Painful cleaning experiences are rare but exposed dentin or sore gum tissues can produce a little more discomfort. In these situations, your dentist may propose a numbing gel be applied to your gums or the use of nitrous oxide (laughing gas).