For many patients, dental cleanings can seem mysterious. You show up to the office, get your teeth scraped and polished, and leave with a smooth, clean feeling in your mouth.
But what exactly takes place before, during and after a professional cleaning? What is the hygienist doing as they poke instruments around your gums? And is getting your teeth cleaned really that important for your health?
Don’t just think of your cleaning as a chore – realize it is preventive care keeping your smile sparkling and your body in its best shape.
Before your Cleaning
In the days leading up to your cleaning, be sure to brush and floss thoroughly. This will make the process easier and more effective if you have less plaque buildup. Make sure to disclose any medications or health changes since your last visit. If you are anxious about the cleaning, talk to your dentist about options to help you relax.
Avoid eating right before your appointment, especially sticky or staining foods that can leave debris. Arrive a few minutes early to complete any required paperwork. Be prepared to answer questions about:
- Current oral health symptoms
- Medical conditions and medications
- Oral hygiene routine
- Diet and lifestyle habits
- Any pain, sensitivity or swelling
Your dentist will discuss any concerns and take baseline x-rays if needed before beginning the cleaning.
During Your Cleaning Appointment
The first part of your cleaning involves an examination of your teeth, gums, tongue, palate and throat. The dentist checks for visual signs of decay, wear, gum disease, oral cancer, bite issues, and more. Probes are used to check for plaque buildup and pocket depths around teeth. If any concerns are found, your dentist may recommend additional treatment.
Next comes plaque and tartar removal above and just below the gumline. This is accomplished using scalers to scrape off deposits. For a routine cleaning, a surface polish will follow using a rubber cup and paste. This polishes away remaining stains on the outer enamel.
Your teeth will then be flossed thoroughly to dislodge plaque between them. Fluoride gel or foam may be applied to strengthen enamel. Your dentist or hygienist explains recommended brushing and flossing techniques for optimal home care.
Additional services like sealants or gum grafts may be provided at the same visit if needed. The average cleaning appointment lasts 30-60 minutes.
After your Cleaning
Immediately after professional cleaning you will notice a slick, smooth feeling on your teeth. This is because the buildup has been removed from the tooth surfaces. Your mouth will feel refreshed and clean.
You may experience some tooth sensitivity for a couple days as the cleaning can expose small areas of dentin. This typically resolves quickly as your teeth re-mineralize. Use a desensitizing toothpaste if sensitivity persists.
Your gums may be slightly tender for 24-48 hours. This is normal as plaque was removed from beneath the gums. Symptoms should be minor.
Brushing and flossing is easier after a cleaning with less plaque in the way. Take efforts to keep up your improved oral hygiene between visits. Avoid stain-causing foods and beverages the first couple days when your enamel is at its cleanest.
Schedule your next 6-month cleaning before you leave so you stay on track. Most insurance covers two cleanings per year. Let the office know of any issues in the meantime.
Benefits of Regular Professional Cleanings
Consistent dental cleanings every 6 months provide many benefits:
- Fresher breath as bacteria and debris are removed
- Reduced plaque buildup as it is cleaned away before hardening
- Lower risk of tooth decay and cavities
- Prevention and treatment of gingivitis
- Detection of oral health issues in early stages
- Decreased need for invasive procedures like root canals
- Increased success of dental work like fillings and crowns
Proper homecare is also key between dental visits through brushing twice daily for two minutes and daily flossing. But professional cleanings are essential for removing plaque in those hard-to-reach areas. By getting a thorough cleaning every 6 months, you can help prevent gum disease, tooth loss, and serious health complications.
While not the most exciting appointment, dental cleanings are one of the most valuable preventive services you can get for improving your oral and overall wellbeing. Keeping up regular professional cleanings and daily home care will help your smile stay healthy and beautiful for life.