Regular professional teeth cleanings are crucial for maintaining good oral health. Cleanings remove harmful plaque buildup that can’t be eliminated with daily brushing and flossing alone. This plaque is what leads to cavities, gum disease, tooth decay and eventual tooth loss if left untreated. Professional cleanings are highly recommended every 6 months to prevent these oral health issues.
However, while critical for oral health, dental cleanings are not without some potential downsides. In certain situations or for some patients, the disadvantages of professional teeth cleaning may outweigh the benefits.
While most people can tolerate minor discomfort or time commitments for cleaner teeth, for some the costs and risks of cleanings make them undesirable. Patients who struggle with dental anxiety or sensitivity issues may find cleanings an agonizing experience. For those without insurance or on a tight budget, the out-of-pocket costs can also be prohibitive. Additionally, cleanings require taking time off work or finding childcare.
Let’s explore some of the main disadvantages and risks of professional dental cleanings that patients should consider.
Disadvantages of Teeth Cleaning
1. Cost of Professional Cleanings
One of the main potential disadvantages of regular professional teeth cleaning is the cost. According to the American Dental Association, the average cost of a routine adult dental cleaning in the U.S. ranges from $70 to $200.
Many dental insurance plans cover two routine cleanings per year. But for uninsured patients or those with limited dental benefits, the out-of-pocket cost may be prohibitive. Those on a tight budget may struggle to afford dental cleanings every 6 months.
Some dental clinics offer lower cost cleaning options to make them more affordable for patients without insurance. Dental schools and hygiene programs also frequently offer discounted or free cleanings.
For low-income families, Medicaid and state programs may provide coverage for children’s dental care. But cost can still be a barrier to accessing professional cleanings for some.
2. Discomfort during the Cleaning
While improved from years past, dental cleanings can still cause some degree of discomfort for patients. Scraping and picking at the teeth and gums with metal instruments is often uncomfortable, even somewhat painful, for those sensitive to touch and pressure.
The polishing, while not abrasive, can increase feelings of sensitivity. Laying tilted back in the exam chair with your mouth open for an extended time can also cause jaw soreness or tension. Those with a strong gag reflex may find cleanings difficult.
Some dentists now offer sedation dentistry to help anxious or phobic patients relax. But for most, some discomfort remains normal during cleanings. Fear of this discomfort leads some to avoid professional care.
3. Potential Gum Irritation
A disadvantage immediately after a cleaning is possible gum irritation. Gums may remain slightly tender for a couple days following a cleaning.
As plaque is scraped from beneath the gumline, this can cause temporary inflammation in the gums. Some minor bleeding or puffiness may occur. For most, this dissipates quickly. But for those prone to gum sensitivity, irritation from a cleaning may linger longer. Proper brushing and flossing in the days after is important to allow gums to fully heal.
4. Increased Tooth Sensitivity
Many patients report increased tooth sensitivity following a dental cleaning. Without plaque acting as a protective barrier, the newly cleaned enamel and dentin may experience sensitivity to hot and cold.
As the cleaning process exposes small areas of dentin or openings to channels in the teeth, nerve sensation increases. For some, this heightened sensitivity after a cleaning subsides within a few days or weeks at most as teeth re-mineralize. But for those already prone to sensitive teeth, it can cause longer lasting discomfort following a cleaning.
5. Allows Detection of New Cavities/Problems
Ironically, one downside of dental cleanings is that they may reveal new dental problems. With plaque and tarter removed, the hygienist and dentist can now see areas of decay or breakdown that were previously obscured on the tooth surfaces.
While detecting issues early is key, some patients dislike being informed new fillings or other dental work is needed after a cleaning. Improved homecare and dietary changes can help avoid problems between cleanings. But for some, what is brought to light during a cleaning may be perceived as a disadvantage of visiting the dentist.
6. Requires Time Commitment
Finding time for a dental cleaning on top of life’s other responsibilities can be challenging. Most cleanings take about an hour from start to finish. For working professionals with packed schedules, carving out this time during business hours twice a year can be inconvenient. Parents may struggle to make arrangements for childcare during appointments also.
Taking time away from job or family for preventive dental care is a sacrifice some are unwilling or unable to make. But skipping cleanings can lead to much lengthier time in the dental chair down the road.
But is dental cleaning worth it?
Despite any potential disadvantages, regular professional dental cleanings are still very much worth it for the health of your teeth and gums. Here are a few key reasons why it is still highly recommended:
- Prevent gum disease – Cleanings remove plaque from beneath the gumline where periodontal disease starts. This prevents painful gum infections and receding gums.
- Avoid tooth decay – Plaque removal limits cavities and tooth decay that can lead to fillings, crowns or extractions if left untreated.
- Maintain dental work – Cleanings keep the areas around fillings, implants and other dental work plaque-free for optimal longevity.
- Detect problems early – Dentists can spot signs of decay or other issues at early stages during a cleaning when they are easiest to treat.
- Decrease oral cancer risk – Oral exams during cleanings allow early detection of any suspicious areas or growths.
- Improve systemic health – Poor oral health from lack of cleaning is tied to higher risk for diabetes, heart disease and other conditions.
- Have better breath – Cleanings remove bacteria causing bad breath for fresher breath.
- Avoid more invasive treatment – Skipping cleanings leads to more complex dental procedures being required down the road.
While no medical procedure is completely risk-free, dental cleanings are considered very safe with minimal side effects for most patients. The benefits far outweigh any temporary disadvantages.
While essential for oral health, dental cleanings do involve some degree of cost, discomfort, and time commitment. But with proper communication, a gentle approach, and advances in technique, most downsides can be minimized or avoided. The upsides of plaque removal and prevention of dental disease far outweigh any temporary disadvantages for the vast majority of patients.
Partner with your dental team to make professional cleanings as comfortable and convenient as possible. Your smile’s health is worth the efforts.