Dental cleanings involve removing plaque (soft, sticky, bacteria infested film) and tartar (calculus) deposits that have built up on the teeth over time. Your teeth are continually bathed in saliva which contains calcium and other substances which help strengthen and protect the teeth.

This chalky substance will eventually build up over time, like limescale in a pipe or kettle. Usually it is tooth coloured and can easily be mistaken as part of the teeth, but it also can vary from brown to black in colour.

If the scale, or calculus (tartar, as dentists like to call it) is allowed to accumulate on the teeth it will unfortunately provide the right conditions for bacteria to thrive next to the gums. The purpose of the cleaning and polishing is basically to leave the surfaces of the teeth clean and smooth so that bacteria are unable to stick to them and you have a better chance of keeping the teeth clean during your regular home care.

Also it leaves your teeth feeling lovely and smooth and clean, which is nice when you run your tongue around them. Actually, come to think of it, there's nothing worse than someone you fancy running their tongue around your teeth and finding a piece of spinach or something! Still, if they're hungry...

The professional cleaning of teeth is sometimes referred to as prophylaxis (or prophy for short). It's a Greek word which means "to prevent beforehand" - in this case, it helps prevent gum disease.


How are dental cleanings done?

The dental hygienist or dentist uses specialized instruments to gently remove these deposits without harming the teeth.

Is it going to be painful?

Most people find that cleanings are painless, and find the sensations described above - tickling vibrations, the cooling mist of water, and the feeling of pressure during "scraping" - do not cause discomfort. A lot of people even report that they enjoy cleanings and the lovely smooth feel of their teeth afterwards! There may be odd zingy sensations, but many people don't mind as they only last a nanosecond.

Be sure to let your dentist/hygienist know if you find things are getting too uncomfortable for your liking. They can recommend various options to make the cleaning more enjoyable.

Painful cleaning experiences can be caused by a number of things: a rough dentist or hygienist, exposed dentine (not dangerous, but can make cleanings unpleasant), or sore gum tissues.

In case you may have had painful cleaning experiences in the past, switching to a gentle hygienist/dentist and perhaps a spot of nitrous oxide can often make all the difference. You could also choose to be numbed. If you opt for local anaesthetic, you may want to break down the cleaning into 2 visits: dentists don't like numbing both sides of the mouth at the same time, because people may accidentally bite their tongue until the numbness has worn off. If you find the scaling a bit uncomfortable because the gum tissues (rather than the teeth themselves) are sensitive, topical numbing gels can be used.