The Dentist’s Guide to a Basic Teeth Cleaning

Professional teeth cleaning by a certified dental hygienist aims to
remove plaque, tarter and stains that have accumulated on the teeth.
Even with routine brushing and flossing of your teeth and gums, tarter
can develop. The professional cleaning of teeth is a crucial part of
good oral hygiene and is needed periodically to maintain the health of
your teeth and gums. Most dentists recommend having your teeth
professionally cleaned every 6-12 months to reduce the likelihood of
periodontal disease progressing. In between routine cleanings, good oral
hygiene at home is vital to prevent tarter build-up and gum disease.

Dental cleanings are designed to remove plaque and tarter deposits that
have built up on teeth over time. Plaque is the sticky, soft film that
contains millions of bacteria. This bacteria found in plaque is what
causes gum disease and tooth decay if not removed by daily brushing and
flossing, as well as routine trips to the dentist. Tarter, or dental
calculus, is a hard calcified deposit that forms on the teeth and can
contribute to their decay. Dentists use specialized instruments to
gently remove these deposits without causing harm to the teeth. All
dental instruments are put through a stringent cleaning, disinfecting,
and sterilizing procedure to ensure safety and quality control. A dental
mirror will also be used to help the dentist inspect hard-to-see areas
in the mouth. Dental mirrors feature elongated handles generally
connected to round mirrors. A dental mirror can help the dentist observe
the teeth and gums for signs of irritation, swelling, decay, tarter, or
bleeding. The first tool that is generally used to clean teeth is an
ultrasonic instrument. This device uses mild vibrations to loosen larger
pieces of tarter. It also sprays subsequent mists of cool water to wash
away loose debris. The tips of the ultrasonic instrument are rounded
and curved, and kept in constant motion. The settings on the device can
be adjusted for the patient’s comfort.

Once larger pieces of tarter are dislodged, the dentist will make the
switch to finer hand-held instruments. Often referred to as curettes or
scalers, these tools are designed to eliminate smaller deposits on the
teeth and smooth the tooth surfaces. Each tooth must be scaled
individually to ensure that all tarter is removed. Once the surfaces of
the teeth are smooth, the dentist will polish the teeth. Using a
slow-speed handpiece containing a soft rubber cup, the polishing device
spins at the tip to smooth teeth. Prophylaxis paste, a gritty
toothpaste-like solution, is put into the rubber cup. The cup containing
the solution spins on the teeth to create a shiny, smooth surface. In
some instances, your dentist may also apply fluoride as the final step
in cleaning. Available in a variety of flavors, such as strawberry,
chocolate, mint, and cherry, fluoride is placed in flexible foam trays
and placed over the teeth. After 30 seconds of the fluoride treatment,
the patient is asked to spit the remaining solution into a saliva
ejector. Fluoride is used to strengthen teeth and protect them against
dental plaque and tarter.

The majority of dental patients find routine teeth cleaning to be
painless. The cooling mist of water, mild vibrations, and the pressure
felt during “scraping” does not generally caused discomfort. It’s
important to let your dentist know if the cleaning is beginning to cause
pain, so that they can recommend alterative options to make your teeth
cleaning more enjoyable. Most dental cleanings last between 30 minutes
to an hour on average, and are performed in a lying position in a
comfortable dental chair. After a professional teeth cleaning, you may
notice that your teeth feel fresher and look brighter. Teeth cleaning
procedures are designed for more than just appearances. Professional
teeth cleaning treatments are the primary means of preventing and
treating periodontal disease and maintaining tooth health.

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