Stain-free teeth are a real confidence booster. One way of achieving a bright and attractive smile is teeth cleaning. Because of phobias and dental anxieties, most people fear having their teeth cleaned or even avoid the cleaning process altogether. Between the strange, prodding noises and occasional jaw discomfort, it is easy to understand why they dread the process.

Understanding what to expect during the process can help ease your stress and make you enjoy fresh results. Also, having an expert perform the procedure will make you love it because they will make you feel more at ease and comfortable. They will also make the process painless and simple.

At Washington Dental, we offer professional teeth cleaning services to patients seeking help in Carson, CA. We have expert dentists and hygienists who will ensure you have the best teeth cleaning experience. We also use state-of-the-art dental tools that make the process as comfortable as possible and enable us to deliver the best possible outcome. Call us right away if you need to have your teeth professionally cleaned, and we'll be glad to serve you.

Teeth Cleaning Definition and Overview

Prophylaxis, also called teeth cleaning, is a preventive procedure carried out by dental hygienists or dentists to achieve or maintain optimum oral/dental health. Prophylaxis is a Greek word meaning 'to prevent in advance.' In this procedure, the dental hygienist/dentist aims at removing the tartar and plaque that have built up on the teeth surface to protect them from dental caries or cavities and other gum and tooth problems.

Routine vs. Deep Teeth Cleaning

There are two primary dental types— routine cleaning (prophylaxis cleaning) and deep cleaning (scaling and root planing). This article focuses on deep cleaning. Routine teeth cleaning is the dental cleaning you receive whenever you go for your routine six-month dental check-up. During this cleaning, your dentist uses special equipment to remove hard tartar and sticky plaque deposits from the teeth surface above the gums. This type of cleaning is critical for preventing periodontal disease and treating a very mild form of the disease (known as gingivitis).

You can also use the time you go for routine cleaning to inquire from your dentist about any area in your mouth where your flossing and brushing require a little help. The dentist can also use this time to ensure you perform these tasks properly, so you are removing as much plaque as possible during your routine at home. Apart from preventing periodontal disease, undergoing routine cleanings also helps prevent bad breath. Usually, routine cleaning is combined with regular check-ups to enable the dentist to inspect your teeth, take x-ray pictures, and screen you for oral cancer, if necessary.

As the name suggests, deep teeth cleanings give your teeth a deep cleaning, utilizing special dental techniques to remove bacteria, tartar, and plaque beneath the gum line and down to the tooth roots. This form of cleaning is usually conducted on patients with moderate to advanced periodontal disease. The bacteria causing periodontal disease love hiding in hard plaque/tartar deposits found on the gum-protected teeth surfaces. As these bacteria grow and multiply, they release toxic substances that irritate gums.

With time, the gums start pulling away from the teeth surfaces, creating small pockets that permit bacteria to move to the tooth roots causing an infection there. The infection may then weaken the tooth roots, making your teeth fall off. Studies show that periodontal disease is the primary reason for tooth loss in the United States.

Deep teeth cleaning eliminates bacteria around the tooth roots and beneath the gum line to prevent periodontal disease from progressing and leading to tooth loss. Additionally, your dentist/dental hygienist will plane (or smooth) the tooth roots surface to make them harder so bacteria can’t stick on them in the future. The dentist/dental hygienist may apply an antibiotic gel on the teeth when cleaning to kill the difficult-to-reach germs, or he/she may prescribe a special antibiotic mouth rinse or oral antibiotics. Since deep cleaning is done beneath the gum line, local anesthesia may be used to numb the gums. Alternatively, if you are anxious or your gums are sensitive, the dentist may sedate you to be comfortable and calm.

Whereas you can clean your teeth at the comfort of your home using toothpaste, dental floss, and a toothbrush, everyone still requires a deeper and more thorough cleaning that only a dental professional can provide. This is because routine flossing and brushing can’t entirely remove tartar and plaque that stick to the teeth surfaces.

There's also another form of teeth cleaning known as gross debridement. This cleaning is often done to determine if any teeth problems weren't initially noticed before the teeth cleaning. Gross debridement is often conducted on persons who haven't been to the dentist in over one year. It is also performed on those who've accumulated so much tartar on the teeth surface.

In essence, gross debridement is done by working thoroughly to remove all the plaque/tartar that has accumulated on gums and teeth. Whereas simple gross debridement doesn't take long, debridements performed on damaged teeth with a larger amount of tartar/plaque accumulation might take a while to complete.

Candidates for Prophylaxis and Anticipated Results

Any person can be an ideal candidate for professional teeth cleaning. It’s advised that a person undergoes this procedure at least after every six months as a preventive measure. If you have existing/dental disorders or problems, you should go for cleaning more frequently. 

Note that tartar and plaque deposits can easily build up even when you regularly and carefully brush and floss your teeth. Regular brushing could slow down plaque/tartar accumulation, but it can’t prevent it entirely. With professional teeth cleaning, the teeth surface is left smooth and clean, so it will be difficult for bacteria to stick on it. The goals of routine professional teeth cleaning are to:

  • Maintain good dental/oral health.
  • Prevent cavities.
  • Prevent gum disease.
  • Prevent too much plaque/tartar from accumulating.
  • Remove teeth surface stains.

The Teeth Cleaning Procedure

Usually, hygienists and dentists use these instruments or tools when performing teeth cleaning:

  • An ultrasonic instrument — this instrument uses tickling vibrations to gently but effectively loosen larger tartar pieces while spraying a cool mist of water to wash off the tiny debris as they loosen. After removing the larger tartar pieces, the dentist/hygienist changes from the ultrasonic instrument to fine dental hand tools.
  • Fluoride — dentists/hygienists may also apply fluoride during the teeth cleaning procedure. Available in gel or foam, fluoride helps strengthen teeth to counter the adverse effects that tartar and plaque had on them. Should the dentist/hygienist apply fluoride, they will advise you not to rinse the mouth, drink, or eat for a minimum of thirty minutes after application.
  • Polisher — polisher is a tool with a soft rubber tip, which slowly moves while polishing the teeth surface.
  • Curettes or scalers — curettes or scalers are small hand tools dentist/hygienists utilize to eliminate smaller deposits manually. They’re effective for scraping off plaque or tartar.

The professional teeth cleaning procedure follows these steps (whereas the precise cleaning procedures dentists/hygienists use may vary from one office to another, most of them follow a similar routine):

1.  A Physical Examination of Gums and Teeth

Before the teeth cleaning procedure commences, the dentist/hygienist must first physically examine your mouth. Usually, they use a small concave-shaped mirror to check your mouth for signs of dental/oral problems like tartar and plaque accumulation, dark spots/marks on teeth, or inflamed gums. This helps them know what they should focus on when cleaning. Some signs they will look for to determine the presence of any dental issues include:

  • Visual pointers of bite problems any issues with your bite or jaw manifest in specific places. The hygienist/dentist will look for any signs of damage from grinding your teeth. They'll also conduct tests to find out if your bite is aligned
  • Poor gum spacing Another problem that dentists/hygienists look for is periodontal disease. The space in between your gum and teeth shows whether you have gum disease or not.
  • Cavities The most common sign that dentists/hygienists are keen on are cavities. Soft areas in the mouth are a sign of a potential cavity.
  • Sores, lumps, or patches the presence of any of these symptoms may indicate that there's an oral cancer risk. The dentist/hygienist will pulsate them to evaluate any degree of tenderness.

If they find more severe issues like gum disease or cavities, the hygienist will have to call a dental specialist to do a more thorough exam to ensure it is safe to proceed. Additionally, the hygienist/dentist will generally ask if you have any concerns about your gums or teeth. Should you have any questions concerning what takes place during the teeth cleaning procedure, ask them at this point.

2.  Removing Tartar and Plaque (Scaling)

Using a mirror to guide them, the dentist/hygienist will use a scaler to remove any tartar and plaque between teeth, around the gum line, and from the teeth surface. Based on the amount of tartar/plaque accumulated, either an ultrasonic or manual scaler will be used. An ultrasonic scaler uses water and gentle vibrations for removing larger deposits, while the manual scaler feels like scraping on teeth. You will hear scraping noises, but that's to be expected. The more plaque/tartar you have, the longer it will take to scrape it. Additionally, if you have gingivitis, your gums might bleed after tartar scraping. Your mouth might also sore afterward.

Flossing and brushing help stop plaque from accumulating and hardening to form tartar. Unfortunately, when tartar has already built up, it can only be removed at the dentist's office. Therefore, if this isn't your favorite stage of the dental cleaning procedure, you should floss and brush more often.

3.  Gritty Toothpaste Cleaning (Polishing)

After the hygienist has removed all the plaque/tartar, they will use an electric brush and a gritty toothpaste known as prophylaxis paste to brush (polish) the teeth and remove any stains. This brush makes grinding noises. Also, expect to feel a slow grinding motion on teeth. Whereas it seems scary, it is an excellent way of deep cleaning and removing any tartar that's left behind after scaling.

Professional teeth cleaning uses toothpaste that tastes and smells like the usual toothpaste, although you could often opt between different flavors. However, the toothpaste has a gritty consistency that gently scrubs teeth. If performed by an expert, teeth polishing is considered safe to be done two times a year. However, do not be harsh when brushing/flossing at home since the enamel can wear down.

4.  Professional Flossing

Whether or not you floss at home regularly, nothing beats professional flossing. Your hygienist can go deep between teeth and detect any possible trouble areas from where your gums may bleed. This may seem pointless in case you regularly floss at the comfort of your home. However, having an expert floss the teeth helps remove any remaining toothpaste or plaque from earlier cleaning.

Just like you floss at home, your hygienist/dentist will guide you through a lengthy floss in between teeth. During this process, they may want to know about your flossing habits and recommend given techniques. Additionally, they might point out areas of concern, so you'll pay more attention to them in the future.

5.  Rinsing

The next step will be to rinse your mouth to remove any debris. Usually, the hygienist/dentist provides a rinse containing liquid fluoride.

6.  Fluoride Treatment

Some dental clinics provide a fluoride treatment. The treatment protects teeth against dental caries until your next visit to the dentist for a check-up or another cleaning. Usually, a patient can select what flavor of fluoride gel/foam they like. The dentist/hygienist then places the fluoride in a mouthpiece, which he/she then fits over the teeth, and the patient has to wear it for about one minute. Afterward, you'll rinse off the excess fluoride gel/foam using water.

Apart from the fluoride gel/foam, the dentist/hygienist may also paint fluoride varnish onto your teeth using a small brush. Fluoride varnish hardens when it combines with saliva, so you can drink or eat immediately after.

Some hygienists/dentists only use expert fluoride treatment on people with a medium-to-high risk of dental caries. Because fluoride is found in toothpaste, mouthwashes, and drinking water, most people do not need a professional fluoride treatment.

7.  Final Inspection

After cleaning your teeth, your dentist/hygienist may conduct a final exam. They will assess the teeth for periodontal disease, examine teeth alignment, and check for any grinding problems. After scrutinizing your digital x-rays, they'll address any concerns the x-rays reveal. At times, the dentist checks the depth of your gingival pockets to find out the condition of your gums. Additionally, they'll assess any dental restorations (fillings, bridges, implants, dentures, etc.) and screen you for oral cancer. Lastly, should you have concerns or questions, they will address them.

Other Possible Steps

We mentioned that expert dental cleaning is scheduled twice a year, whereas x-rays are usually conducted yearly. Still, based on what the hygienist/dentist observes in the mouth, they may conduct other exams. A hygienist/dentist might suggest molar sealants for younger children, which help prevent dental caries in difficult-to-brush places.

Whether or not it's necessary to undergo further steps, the most critical thing is to continue visiting your dentist for routine dental cleaning to prevent dental/oral problems in the first place. By understanding what is happening beforehand, you will be at ease- and perhaps love going to these dental visits.

Possible Risks and Complications

Generally, the professional dental cleaning process isn't painful, and it's comfortable, except for the period you have to sit with your mouth open. However, it could be highly uncomfortable for people with tartar and plaque that are hard to scrape off. If the hardened tartar is scraped off, subsequent cleanings take little time. These factors can also make this process more painful and uncomfortable:

  • Tooth sensitivity because of tooth decay, gum disease, or inflammation.
  • Jaw pain because of temporomandibular disorder.

You should communicate to your hygienist/dentist if you feel any pain. Usually, they can allow you to try a different method to minimize pain or take a break. Remember that teeth cleaning must be performed meticulously and carefully. Therefore, it's critical to go to a hygienist/dentist you trust. The specialist must also have the necessary certification and training to perform the procedure.

If the process is performed incorrectly or overly vigorously, there's a higher risk of injuring the gums, making them more susceptible to infections. Injured gums may also cause gingivitis (inflammation and swelling), bleeding gums, and soreness. There's also a higher risk of enamel damage.

How Long Does The Professional Teeth Cleaning Procedure Take?

The amount of tartar or plaque on your teeth will determine how long it will take to undergo the cleaning procedure. On average, however, this process takes only between thirty minutes to an hour, so it's certainly worth the effort.

Benefits of Teeth Cleaning

Apart from maintaining a bright smile, these professional dental cleanings have several advantages to both general and oral health. Here are reasons why teeth cleaning is critical:

Detect Dental/Oral Problems Early Enough

During a professional dental cleaning, x-rays may be conducted to check the condition of your jaw, tooth roots, and teeth for any problems that can't be detected with a simple oral exam. The x-rays indicate teeth position and help determine if you should wear braces and show if you have any tumors, cysts, or infections in your mouth.

Improve General Health

Untreated cavities and gum infections can cause tooth loss, but the problems don't end here. Oral/dental conditions that enable the thriving of bacteria may contribute to different diseases and health issues. For example, periodontal disease can increase the risk of heart disease since the bacteria in the gum may narrow the arteries. Endocarditis is an infection of the heart’s inner lining and is usually caused by bacteria that spreads through the bloodstream from another body part, like the gums.

Mouth bacteria can be pulled into the lungs to cause bronchitis or pneumonia. Periodontal disease could also worsen chronic lung diseases like asthma by causing inflammation of the airways. Also, gum infections that are left untreated during pregnancy are associated with premature labor.

Prevent Foul Breath

Often, bad breath or halitosis arises due to plaque or underlying dental problems. Plaque harbors foul-smelling bacteria, leading to a bad breath issue.

Prevent Disease and Cavities

During teeth cleaning, plaque is eliminated. If you leave plaque to accumulate, it hardens to form tartar, which eventually causes tooth decay. The bacteria found in plaque generate acids that eat away the enamel, resulting in cavities if it isn't removed. Periodontal disease results from plaque accumulation, enabling bacteria to infect gums below and around the gum line. During a professional cleaning, plaque is removed, reducing the risk of developing gum disease or any other infection.

The Cost of Teeth Cleaning

A dental cleaning process costs between $75 to $400 (without insurance), depending on the patient's age and the kind of cleaning required. Other factors affecting the cost of this procedure are the dentist’s/hygienist's location and whether you require a prescription toothpaste or an anti-home product from your dentist.

Find a General Dentist Near Me

After reading this, you now know that teeth cleaning is not only necessary for optimal oral/dental health, but it also doesn't hurt. At Washington Dental, we provide dental examinations and teeth cleaning services to patients seeking these services in Carson, CA. We believe that preventive care is essential for having good dental/oral health.

We aim at keeping our patients as healthy as possible by ensuring we deliver the best possible results. Apart from teeth cleaning services, we also offer ongoing dental care and teach patients how to practice good dental/oral hygiene at home. If you are looking to have your teeth cleaned in Carson, call us today at 310-217-1507 to schedule a dental assessment consultation and know how you can stay healthy all year round.