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Updated on September 29, 2022

Dental Cleanings

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What Happens During a Dental Cleaning?

Dental hygiene is important, but sometimes it can feel like a drag. However, you need to have regular cleanings to: 

  • Maintain oral health
  • Prevent gum disease
  • Stop tooth decay progression

Types of Dental Cleanings

There are four types of teeth cleanings available:

  1. Prophylaxis 
  2. Scaling and root planing 
  3. Periodontal maintenance 
  4. Gross debridement 

In this article, we’ll focus on the steps of a prophylaxis dental cleaning, the most common type::

Step 1: Oral Examination

The first step of a prophylaxis cleaning includes an examination of the teeth, gum line, gums, and mouth for any problems. Then a head and neck exam is performed to check for any abnormalities like cancer. 

During the dental exam, your dentist or dental hygienist looks for signs of: 

  • Tooth decay
  • Gum disease
  • Plaque and tartar buildup
  • Problems at the tooth roots
  • Orthodontic or bite issues
  • Other potential oral health issues

If they find anything unusual during the exam, they'll recommend treatment. 

Cleanings typically last up to 45 to 60 minutes.

Your dentist will also inspect your mouth thoroughly with an instrument called an explorer. They may need to clean off some plaque buildup before examining your teeth and gums.

Step 2: Plaque and Tartar Removal

Plaque and tartar removal is an important part of any dental cleaning. Plaque hardens and tartar accumulates on your teeth, which can lead to decay and gum disease.

To prevent these problems, you’ll need to visit your dentist every 6 months for a check-up. During professional cleanings, they'll remove plaque with a tool called an ultrasonic scaler, which vibrates at high speeds. 

They'll also use a dental scraper to remove built-up tartar. These tools are powerful enough to remove plaque without damaging the tooth's enamel. They have sharp edges that can cut through hardened tartar. 

Step 3: Deep Cleaning (Expert Brushing & Flossing)

A deep dental cleaning is a thorough treatment that includes removing plaque and tartar from the teeth and gums. 

Deep cleanings typically include:

  • An examination of your mouth and teeth
  • Scaling and polishing to remove stains and tartar
  • Fluoride treatments, which help strengthen enamel and prevent cavities

Teeth cleanings are most beneficial under a dentist’s care.

In some cases, your dentist will use a medical mouthwash. This is an antiseptic containing chlorhexidine, metronidazole, or cetylpyridinium chloride.

Note: Antiseptic mouthwashes may cause harm in children under 3 years old. They also increase the risk of atopic diseases in family members. These diseases include eczema, asthma, and rhinoconjunctivitis.

A deep cleaning often involves local anesthesia to relieve pain during treatment and analgesics to reduce any post-treatment pain.

Antiseptic mouthwashes are beneficial when used alongside at-home dental hygiene practices. They help prevent oral infections and remove biofilm, which cleanses plaque from the teeth rather than adhering to them.

These mouthwashes are especially useful for people who have a history of or are prone to gum disease.

Step 4: Rinsing

Rinsing with mouthwash, regular brushing, and flossing is not enough to keep your mouth healthy.

During the rinsing stage of treatment, your hygienist will thoroughly rinse your mouth. They might also recommend a special mouthwash with fluoride if you don’t use one already.

For better oral health, invest in professional teeth cleanings. Not only do they help prevent future problems, but you’ll be able to relax knowing you’re under the care of a medical professional.

Step 5: Fluoride Treatment

One of the more common treatments used during a dental cleaning is fluoride. Your hygienist will apply fluoride to your teeth to strengthen enamel and protect them from decay. 

Fluoride treatment often comes in the form of a gel. It’s brushed onto your teeth. It can also come in the form of a mouth rinse, which you use every day for about 2 minutes before brushing your teeth.

Fluoride can be helpful for people who: 

  • Drink water with low fluoride levels
  • Live in areas where fluoridated water isn't available
  • Don't have access to regular dental care

If you already have healthy teeth and get regular dental checkups, this treatment might not be right for you.

Step 6: Final Checkup With Dentist 

Luckily, professional cleanings don’t take much time. You'll usually be in and out in about an hour. 

Once your teeth are clean, the dentist will look for any problems and discuss what you need to do to maintain dental health. They may also:

  • Schedule your next cleaning 
  • Schedule restorations or additional treatment (if they find oral health problems)
  • Prescribe you a medicated mouthwash
  • Show you how to brush and floss properly (if needed) 
  • Start a dental care plan with home-care instructions

Routine appointments take longer if your dentist finds any oral health issues during the cleaning. For example, if you have a few cavities, they’ll run you through the process of getting them restored. 

Why are Regular Teeth Cleanings Important?

Regular cleanings are important for the overall health of your mouth and body. If you don't visit the dentist every 6 months, there's a good chance you'll develop cavities or gum disease.

If you're not brushing and flossing regularly, you're likely to have more harmful bacteria in your mouth. This can also lead to bad breath, cavities, and gum disease. 

6 Sources Cited
Last updated on September 29, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Johnson, J. “Why You Should See Your Dentist.” American Dental Association, 2013.
  2. Gingivitis and periodontitis: What are the advantages and disadvantages of professional teeth-cleaning?.” InformedHealth.org, Feb. 2020.
  3. Adult Oral Health.” Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
  4. Oral Hygiene.” Cleveland Clinic.
  5. Singh, S M et al. “Clinical studies regarding the plaque removal efficacy of manual toothbrushes.” The Journal of Clinical Dentistry vol. 3,Suppl C : C21-28.
  6. "Dental Scaling and Root Planing for Periodontal Health: A Review of the Clinical Effectiveness, Cost-effectiveness, and Guidelines." Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health, 17 Oct 2016.
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