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Dental Visits Decoded: What is a Dental Cleaning?

January 23, 2019

Brushing and flossing are essential parts of the regular daily smile care routine. Getting your teeth cleaned at the dentist should happen at least twice a year. And together, these habits will help you have not only a confident smile, but also a healthier mouth and body. Skipping your bi-annual dentist visits prevents a skilled dental practitioner from using their specific, professional dental cleaning tools to work their magic. Curious about what a dental cleaning may hold, or what to expect at your next dentist appointment? Read on and learn what it means to get your teeth cleaned at the dentist.


As early as 1845, The American Journal of Dental Science recommended “cleaning the teeth with floss silk two or three times per day.” This is thought of as the earliest reference in American history to preventive or “prophylaxis” dental care. This type of dental cleaning is conducted on healthy mouths. A prophylaxis cleaning – or “prophy,” as the insiders say – starts with a visual examination using a dental mirror to check for any areas of concern. A “periodontal scaler,” or pointed dental tool, and an ultrasonic scaler are used to remove small amounts of plaque, stains, and tartar from the teeth and just below the gumline. The probe has markings on it that help the dentist measure.

A healthy gumline means that the gum “pocket” that the tooth sits in is snug and between 1-3mm. The dentist measures different parts around one single tooth and gum pocket, taking great care and consideration.

If during the initial examination the dental professional finds more plaque than is considered normal, a deeper cleaning is done. Professional dental cleaning tools are necessary to perform this type of planing and scaling method.


A build-up of plaque and tartar over time is unhealthy and uncomfortable. Plaque is a normal part of daily life, but if it isn’t adequately removed each day, bacteria will begin to feed on the plaque. When the bacteria in your mouth have access to an abundance of plaque, they excrete acid onto your teeth. The acid causes irritation and decay, forcing the gums to pull away from your teeth and form spaces.” Plaque situates itself in these pockets, and only a dental practitioner with professional dental cleaning tools can remove it. If you don’t go to the dentist, this gum disease could lead to bone and tooth loss.

Once the stains and tartar have been removed, your dentist or hygienist will use a tool that squirts water into your mouth to rinse the particles away. A wand with suction is used to remove the excess water and debris from your mouth. You’re almost done!

Your dental professional may offer to polish your teeth. If you choose to polish, your teeth will be brushed with gritty toothpaste that makes your teeth feel shiny and smooth. The final step of the cleaning is thorough flossing and rinsing.

After you visit the dentist for a cleaning, give yourself a pat on the back. Preventive care helps keep your smile healthy. It also helps control costs by preventing further damage before it begins. To understand exactly what your next dental appointment will entail, reach out to your dental office for a pre-appointment discussion.

Note: Procedure descriptions cover what is typically involved in a procedure; actual method may vary by dental office.

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