Professional dental cleaning is a general dental procedure for removal of plaque, tartar and stains from the teeth. Performed by a dentist or dental hygienist, cleanings typically include tooth polishing as well. “The oral cavity is colonized by a large number of different types of bacteria, which form a complex ecosystem in the mouth. Bacteria living on the surfaces of the teeth form a dental plaque or dental biofilm. Dental plaque can harden over time and form a tartar or calculus,” says Alexander Shor, DMD, MSD. Therefore a dental cleaning is necessary to remove this buildup and prevent unhealthy dental conditions from developing.

“It is intended as a preventive and treatment procedure for patients who present with plaque, gingivitis and minor loss of the supporting bone around their teeth. The frequency of prophylaxis appointments typically varies depending on the clinical presentation. The dentist may prescribe one or two prophylaxis appointments per year. Typically the patient is scheduled for a one-hour appointment,” says Dr. Shor.

Why Dental Cleanings Are Important

According to Shor, one of the most important objectives of the dental cleaning is prevention. Gum disease and cavities are two conditions commonly addressed in the cleaning. “Additional benefits of dental cleaning include removal of stains, which improves appearance of the teeth. Dental cleaning can also help in the prevention and treatment of bad breath,” says Shor. As part of the dental cleaning, the dentist and dental hygienist provide a report and educational information on the treatment and prevention of oral diseases.

Dental cleaning appointments also include diagnostic data collection. A dental professional will evaluate and measure the amount of dental plaque, gum bleeding and depth of gum pocket. This information is recorded and stored in the patient record and compared over time. As a diagnostic aid, dental radiographs are also used during the dental cleaning procedures.

Dental cleanings are typically completed with the help of specialized instruments. “In order to access the areas around the teeth, a specially-designed hand held cleaning tools are utilized. Specially-designed rotating brushes and polishing pastes are used for the polishing of the teeth,” says Shor.

For patients with advanced forms of gum disease and a high risk of cavities, dental cleaning may also include placement and application of localized antibacterial and remineralization medications.

Another type of dental cleaning is when a deeper cleaning is necessary and typically falls under the category of periodontal cleaning. “The dentist will prescribe a full-mouth debridement followed by one to four quadrants of deep cleanings called scaling and root planning, which consists of both ultrasonic and instrument scaling, usually with local anesthetic,” says Thalia Ohara, DDS.

The rest of the dental cleaning appointment should consist of an exam and possibly x-rays if the patient is due. “Once the cleaning is completed, you will typically finish the visit with a dental exam. X-rays may be needed in order to perform the exam. X-rays generally are updated as needed. During the exam, the doctor is checking for cavities, possible infections and other dental problems while also performing an oral cancer screening,” says Laura Frangella, DDS, PC.

Dentists also provide specific home care instruction and establish frequency of re-care based on the patient’s specific needs. “The hygienist and dentist review the visit, findings and develop an oral health plan for the next six months to one year. Aesthetic and oral health goals are again reviewed, to be sure that the plan addresses these goals,” says William Harper, DDS.