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Updated on October 3, 2022

Dental Prophylaxis - Types, Costs & What to Expect

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What is Dental Prophylaxis?

A dental prophylaxis is a preventive procedure that involves cleaning and polishing the teeth. A dental prophylaxis visit is also known as a routine wellness appointment.

The purpose of this visit is to remove plaque, calculus, tartar, and stains from the teeth. Dental prophylaxis also helps remove any remaining food particles that have been left behind after brushing or flossing.

Importance

Many people overlook the importance of routine teeth cleanings. The key to a healthy mouth is brushing and flossing daily, but it's also important to visit the dentist at least twice a year for dental cleanings.

Professional teeth cleaning removes plaque and tartar that cannot be removed by brushing and flossing alone. This keeps the mouth healthy and free of bacteria. 

According to the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), many studies suggest there is a link between periodontal disease and other systemic medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.2

There are also many benefits to preventive dentistry for children. Preventive dentistry can prevent tooth decay and gum disease. It is important for chewing and speaking functions, especially in growing children, and can help prevent the need for extensive dental treatment later on in life, such as root canals, extractions, or teeth replacements.1

Effectiveness 

Preventive care significantly improves dental outcomes. One study found that preventive treatment significantly reduced the cost of future dental care.3

By protecting your teeth before issues occur, you can effectively reduce your chance of developing:

  • Tooth decay
  • Gingivitis
  • Periodontitis
  • Tooth loss 
  • Bad breath or halitosis

Types of Dental Prophylaxis Services

Depending on your specific needs, there are many different types of dental prophylaxis services. Typically, the dentist will perform all or most of the following services at your routine cleaning appointment.

Dental exams

Dentists usually perform dental exams. They can detect oral diseases, such as cavities and gingivitis, and identify risk factors for future disease.

Dental exams typically consist of a visual examination of the teeth and gums. They also often include feeling (palpating) for lumps or rough areas in the mouth with fingers or an instrument and sometimes taking X-rays.

X-rays

Dental X-rays are an important tool in the dental field. X-rays use radiation to take images of the inside of a person's teeth and bones. They can diagnose tooth decay, bone loss, and other dental problems.4

Cleaning

Dental cleaning is a process that consists of removing plaque, tartar, and stains from the teeth. A dentist or dental hygienist usually does the cleaning, which is rarely painful.

Teeth cleaning usually takes 30 minutes to an hour. During this time, the dental professional cleans and polishes the teeth to remove any plaque or tartar that has accumulated. They also teach you how to take care of your teeth, including brushing twice daily and flossing once daily.

Flossing and polishing

The dentist or hygienist will floss and polish your teeth as part of the prophylaxis. They may be able to reach parts of your mouth that you struggle to reach and give you customized tips to ensure you are flossing thoroughly at home.

Then, they’ll polish your teeth. This involves using a rubber disc to make the tooth enamel look smooth and glossy, which makes it less likely to collect plaque, tartar, and stains in the future. 

Fluoride treatments or sealants

Your dentist might recommend fluoride treatments and/or sealants (a thin coating on the back teeth) to prevent tooth decay.

Sealants can help prevent cavities from forming on the chewing surfaces of back teeth, where toothbrushes can't reach. Fluoride treatments are applied to the teeth surfaces and strengthen tooth enamel. This makes it harder for acids in your food and drinks to attack the enamel.5

What to Expect During a Dental Prophylaxis 

During a dental prophylaxis visit, you should expect the dental professional to thoroughly examine the inside of your mouth.

Adults 

Usually, a dental prophylaxis visit will follow the same routine:

  1. First, the dental hygienist will discuss your oral health with you and ask about any issues or discomfort
  2. If necessary, they will take X-rays, which may be required every 3, 6, or 12 months depending on your needs 
  3. Next, they will examine your mouth for signs of gum disease, tooth decay, and other problems
  4. Then, they will scrape the plaque and tartar from your teeth 
  5. They will also polish your teeth to remove any stains or discoloration and leave the teeth with a glossy smooth finish 
  6. Finally, they may apply fluoride treatment if you choose it (sometimes at an extra cost)

During this process, your dentist will discuss your oral care routine with you and make any suggestions for improvements.

Kids

For children, dental professionals usually conduct an oral examination and have a discussion with them about their dental habits. 

They might gently scale the teeth to remove any plaque buildup. Then, they’ll polish the teeth to make it more difficult for plaque to stick.

Children’s prophylaxis appointments focus on promoting good oral health.

How Often is a Prophylaxis Necessary? 

Dentists usually recommend scheduling a prophylaxis appointment every 6 months. Most dentists suggest that people experiencing gum disease (periodontitis) should have this preventative measure every 3 to 4 months.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends children have their first dental visit within 6 months of the eruption of the first tooth or by their first birthday, whichever comes first.1

Cost & Insurance Coverage

The cost of dental care is a concern for many people. According to the National Association of Dental Plans (NADP), only around 64 percent of the U.S. population has dental benefits.6 

This is supported by the CDC, which states that about one-third of American households can't afford dental care.7

In the United States, preventive dentistry services are typically covered under an insurance plan.

If you don’t have dental insurance, you can expect to pay between $70 and $355, depending on your specific needs.This is much cheaper than if you need treatment for problems like cavities in the future.

Prophylaxis vs. Deep Cleaning

Prophylaxis is used to prevent dental conditions like gum disease. It’s a preventive measure to keep your mouth healthy.

Deep cleaning is reserved for people who already have gum disease. It is also known as scaling and root planing. 

Scaling and root planing is not typically part of a standard prophylaxis treatment. For people with advanced gum disease, it may be useful. 

Scaling is a dental procedure that removes plaque and bacteria from tooth surfaces. Root planing is when a dentist smooths out rough spots on the teeth' roots. 

Deep cleanings are still relatively non-invasive, but most people need a local anesthetic to be comfortable during the procedure. 

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Risks of Neglecting Routine Teeth Cleanings 

Common risks of neglecting routine teeth cleanings include tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss.

Tooth decay is the most common oral problem in America.8 It can cause bad breath, pain, tooth loss, and many other health problems.

Gum disease is another common mouth problem affecting the gums and surrounding bone. If you neglect regular teeth cleanings, you are at a higher risk for gum disease and tooth loss.

Summary

A dental prophylaxis is one aspect of preventive dentistry. It is a dental treatment where a dental professional cleans the teeth and gums to remove plaque, tartar, and staining from the surface of the teeth. This can prevent gum disease, tooth decay, and other oral health problems.

8 Sources Cited
Last updated on October 3, 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. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)” n.d.
  2. American Academy of Periodontology “Gum Disease and Other Diseases” n.d.
  3. Pourat, N. et al Evidence of effectiveness of preventive dental care in reducing dental treatment use and related expenditures” J Public Health Dent., Jun. 2018
  4. American Dental Association “X-Rays/Radiographs” n.d.
  5. American Dental Association “Fluoride” n.d.
  6. American Student Dental Association “Understanding Dental Insurance” n.d.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Disparities in Oral Health” 5 Feb. 2021
  8. Health People 2030 “Oral Conditions” n.d.
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