Professional dental cleaning tools

If you’ve ever wondered about all those odd shaped metal tools your dental hygienist uses during your teeth cleaning, you’re not alone. Professional dental cleanings involve a wide array of specialized instruments. These tools allow hygienists and dentists to thoroughly remove plaque, tartar and stains from your teeth and below your gumline.

Understanding what these dental cleaning hand instruments do and how professionals use them can help demystify your next cleaning visit.

For instance, those pointy “picks” are actually called scalers, and they are carefully angled to chip off calculus while preserving the tooth enamel. The curved hooks help clean around back molars and the base of the gums. Smaller “mini” versions clean between tight teeth. Polishing cups use paste to buff away surface stains for a lustrous finish. High-tech ultrasonic scalers use vibrations to safely dislodge plaque. Suction wands remove the debris.

By learning about the most common cleaning tools, you can appreciate the science behind the scraping and recognize each instrument plays a key role in revealing your healthiest smile.

Professional dental cleaning tools

Professional dental cleaning tools


Scalers make up the bulk of the instruments used during dental cleanings. They serve to scrape and pick plaque, tartar and calculus deposits off the surfaces of the teeth above and below the gumline. This is done using precise strokes and angles.

There are many types of dental scalers:

  • Universal scalers – All-purpose scalers for supragingival plaque removal
  • Gracey curettes – Slender scalers for subgingival calculus removal
  • Anterior scalers – Angled scalers to access front tooth surfaces
  • Posterior scalers – Curved scalers for premolars and molars
  • Mini scalers – Small scalers for tight spaces between teeth
  • Perio scalers – Flat scalers for deep cleanings of gum pockets

Dental hygienists are highly trained in scaling technique, adapting pressure and direction based on the area being cleaned. Scalers come in various sizes and shapes. Stainless steel is the most common material as it can be sharpened and sterilized.

Ultrasonic Scalers 

Also called cavitron scalers, these electric scalers use ultrasonic vibrations to break up and dislodge calculus deposits. They are gentler than hand scalers and often preferred by patients. The ultrasonic waves loosen plaque and tartar while irrigation flushes it away. This provides a thorough subgingival cleaning. It is also quieter than the scraping sound of traditional metal scalers.

Dental Polishing Tools

After scaling, a rubber cup polish is used to buff stains off the visible surfaces of the teeth. This polishing paste contains fine abrasives that provide a lustrous finish to the enamel. Common polishing tools include: 

  • Prophy angles – Contraangles that hold the polishing cup and connect to the handpiece
  • Rubber polishing cups – Disposable cups with the polishing paste
  • Pumice paste – Coarse paste used first for heavy stains
  • Fluoride paste – Finer paste with fluoride to strengthen enamel

Polishing to remove surface stains is painless and most patients find it refreshing. Some hygienists finish with a fluoride foam rinse treatment as well.

Other Common Cleaning Tools

Additional instruments hygienists may use during your visit include:

  • Mouth mirror – Lets the hygienist view all tooth surfaces and angles
  • Dental probe – Checks for soft areas that indicate cavities
  • Sickle scalers – Shaped like a hook to access around molars
  • Air polishing device – Sprays baking soda to dislodge plaque
  • Suction – Removes water, saliva and debris

Your hygienist will have a full set of these dental instruments to work systematically around each tooth for a complete cleaning.


Advanced Cleaning Technology

Advanced cleaning technology in dentistry has revolutionized oral care beyond traditional methods. Dental offices now employ cutting-edge techniques and tools to enhance the cleaning process, ensuring optimal oral health for patients. Some of these advanced technologies include:


Utilizing laser energy, dentists can effectively break up calculus (tartar) and eliminate bacteria. Laser technology is precise and minimally invasive, offering a targeted approach to dental cleaning while promoting faster healing.

b. PIEZON Ultrasonic Scaling:

PIEZON ultrasonic scalers provide a more comfortable cleaning experience compared to traditional metal scalers. These devices use ultrasonic vibrations to remove plaque and calculus gently, reducing discomfort for patients during the cleaning process.

c. Airflow Preparation:

Airflow technology employs kinetic air to lift stains and biofilm away from the teeth’s surface. This gentle yet thorough cleaning method ensures a sparkling clean and polished finish, leaving patients with a refreshing feeling after their dental cleaning.

d. CARIO – Diode Laser:

CARIO, a diode laser, offers a painless and heat-free solution to eliminate bacteria. By targeting harmful bacteria effectively, this laser technology promotes oral health without causing discomfort to patients.

These advanced cleaning technologies not only enhance the efficiency of dental cleanings but also improve the overall patient experience. Dentists and hygienists can provide more precise and comfortable cleanings, ensuring thorough removal of plaque, calculus, and bacteria.

Discuss options with your dentist to determine if these newer technologies are right for your treatment plan.

Homecare Tools

While professional tools can access areas you can’t at home, daily plaque removal relies on simple tools like:

  • Soft or extra soft toothbrush
  • Floss and interdental picks
  • End tuft brush to clean between teeth
  • Electric toothbrush for enhanced plaque removal
  • Antimicrobial mouth rinse

Be sure to let your hygienist know if you have any issues using certain tools or have sensitivity during cleanings so they can tailor the process. With the right techniques and technologies, professional dental cleanings are comfortable and effective.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the armamentarium of dental cleaning tools hygienists use to keep your mouth healthy takes the mystery out of those odd, prodding instruments. From scalers to ultrasonics to polishers, these specialized tools in skilled hands provide a thorough, professional-grade cleaning you simply can’t duplicate at home. Next time you recline in the dental chair for your regular cleaning, you’ll know exactly how those tools are working to reveal your healthiest, brightest smile.


  • Editorial team

    A team comprising oral health care professionals, researchers, and professional Writers, striving to impart you with the knowledge to improve your oral health, and that of your loved ones. 

  • Lilly

    Lilly, aka, Liza Lee, is a passionate community oral health officer and our lead writer. She's not only well-versed in performing a multitude of dental procedures, including preventive, restorative, and cosmetic, but also an avid writer. Driven by the significant oral health burden all around her, Lilly strives to build capacity and promote oral health. She envisions making a lasting impact by advancing research, prevention, and promotion efforts to alleviate oral health disparities. Please share your views and opinions on my posts.

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