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If you dread going to the dentist, you’re not alone. Dental work can be stressful for many people, even if it’s just a routine cleaning. In 2019, 34% of adults hadn’t visited the dentist in the past year.1
Knowing what to expect from a typical dental cleaning can decrease your anxiety. Routine teeth cleaning, or prophylaxis teeth cleaning, typically includes the following steps:
A dental hygienist will perform each step of the cleaning. Your dentist may also examine your mouth when the hygienist finishes.
A prophylaxis dental cleaning is the most common type of teeth cleaning a dental hygienist does. It usually takes 45 to 60 minutes.
Dentists recommend you get this procedure every six months for preventative care. Regular dental cleanings are essential to:
A dental hygienist will perform the prophylaxis teeth cleaning. Once done, your dentist may also assess your oral health.
Here’s what to expect when you go in for a prophylaxis dental cleaning:
First, your dental hygienist will examine your teeth and gums. They’ll use an instrument called an explorer to look for signs of:
The hygienist will also examine your head and neck for abnormalities like cancer. If they find anything unusual during the exam, they'll recommend treatment or a consultation with the dentist.
After the exam, the dental hygienist will remove plaque and tartar from your teeth and gums.
Plaque is a sticky film that forms in your mouth from bacteria and food particles. Without proper cleaning, it can harden into tartar, which you can only remove at the dentist’s office.
Your dental hygienist will use a dental scraper or scaler to remove built-up tartar. They may also use an ultrasonic scaler, which uses water flow and vibrates at high speeds.
Next, your dental hygienist will polish and floss your teeth expertly. They will use a prophy cup and tooth polishing pastes.
The polishing paste may feel gritty because it’s supposed to scrub and polish your teeth. The prophy cup will remove lingering plaque and extrinsic stains.
After polishing your teeth with the prophy cup, your hygienist will use dental floss to perform an interdental cleaning and remove any residual prophy paste between your teeth.
After polishing and flossing, your hygienist will thoroughly rinse your mouth to remove leftover particles. The rinse may include water or a liquid fluoride mixture.
The final step in your prophylaxis dental cleaning is when the hygienist applies fluoride to your teeth. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that strengthens enamel and protects teeth from decay.
Not every cleaning will include fluoride. For example, if you’re an adult with healthy teeth who gets regular check-ups, you may not need fluoride treatment for cleaning.
When the hygienist finishes, they will call the dentist to examine you. Your dentist will check for problems and discuss ways to maintain optimal oral health.
They may also:
Routine appointments take longer if your dentist finds any oral health issues during the exam. If you haven’t visited the dentist in a long time, they may also want to take updated mouth X-rays.
It’s normal for your mouth to feel strange after teeth cleaning. You may feel tender or sore. Your teeth should also feel glossy and smooth after a dental cleaning.
Follow the oral hygiene instructions given to you by your dental hygienist and dentist—brush and floss daily to prevent gum disease and tartar accumulation.
Prophylaxis cleaning is the most common type of teeth cleaning. If you properly care for your oral health, it may be the only cleaning you’ll ever need.
However, there are other types of dental cleanings for more severe issues, such as:
Regular cleanings are essential for the overall health of your mouth and body. If you don't visit the dentist every six months, there's a strong chance you'll develop cavities or gum disease.
Brush and floss regularly between cleanings, and follow any recommendations from your dentist or dental hygienist.
A prophylaxis dental cleaning involves an exam, plaque and tartar removal, prophy polish, and fluoride treatment by a dental hygienist. It should take around an hour to complete. The dentist will step in at the end to do a final exam of your mouth.
You may feel tender after your appointment, but routine cleaning typically doesn’t hurt. Your teeth will feel smooth and glossy afterward.
Routine dental cleanings are essential to control plaque and tartar, prevent gum disease, and maintain oral health. You should get regular teeth cleanings at your dentist’s office every six months.
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