Even if you are diligent with your home dental care and have good oral hygiene, routine dental exams and cleanings are essential. Your dentist will look for early signs of dental problems which include plaque build-up, decay, gum disease, oral cancer, or others and will recommend an appropriate course of treatment. Your dentist can also determine whether oral problems may, in fact, be symptoms of diseases in other parts of the body. At each dental check-up, you will also receive a professional cleaning by a hygienist who can remove plaque that has developed even with regular and diligent brushing and flossing. Professional cleanings will get rid of calcified plaque, also known as calculus or tartar. This plaque can build up in hard-to-reach places that a dentist or hygienist can reach where you cannot. Regular exams and cleanings are recommended at least once every six months.
What to Expect
Your dental cleaning should take 30 to 60 minutes. Normally, a trained hygienist will perform the dental cleaning first. Once complete, the dentist will typically come in and give you the exam afterwards. For the most part and for many people, dental cleanings are painless and they do not experience any discomfort.
The first part of a dental cleaning starts with the hygienist using a scaler to “scale” the teeth. They use a small metal instrument that has a bladelike end that is used to scrape off and remove plaque and tartar from above and below the gum line, often including the pockets of the gums as plaque frequently builds up there. Some hygienists may also use an electric or ultrasonic device that vibrates to shake look the plaque and tartar. This is based on the preference of each particular hygienist and what tools the office has available. The teeth are then rinsed.
The second part of the cleaning is polishing the teeth with a lightly abrasive paste to remove any remaining plaque. The hygienist will then buff the teeth using an electric polisher. These tools generally have different sized head attachments so that they can clean and buff hard-to-reach areas in the mouth. Your teeth are now smooth and clean – and smooth tooth surfaces make it more difficult for plaque to accumulate before the next cleaning.
Depending on the condition of your teeth, your dentist may recommend that you get a cleaning more than once every 6 months.