1. Take ibuprofen before and after your appointment.
If you have a lot of plaque and tartar buildup, your gums can swell in response to a cleaning. Taking about 600 to 800 mg of ibuprofen one hour before your cleaning and again six hours after your cleaning can reduce the inflammatory reaction and reduce that sore feeling in your gums.

2. Get numb.
Ask the hygienist to get you numb for the cleaning, just as you would for a filling. In my office, we also Q-tip some topical anesthesia onto the area being cleaned, which works well for many folks.

3. Switch toothpastes.
When teeth become worn down with age, acidic drinks, or gum recession, the more sensitive inner parts of the tooth become exposed. The inner part of the tooth, called the root, is often sensitive to hot, cold, and sweetness. A desensitizing toothpaste that contains potassium nitrate can reduce root sensitivity. Potassium nitrate works by entering tubules in the tooth and block nerve signals of pain. I use Sensodyne Pro Enamel since I have some gum recession.

4. Do all you can to stop gum recession.
Desensitizing toothpaste isn't a cure-all. Your best bet is to care for your gums by preventing recession, which occurs every time your gums respond to plaque and tartar buildup. Keep to regular teeth cleanings, which removes plaque and tartar, and prevent buildup in between appointments by flossing and brushing. Ask your hygienist for a pocket reading, which is basically a measure of how much gum recession you have. Do all you can to keep your pocket reading right where it is and to not get any deeper!

6. Beware of overbrushing.
Every time I watch a movie where there's a scene with someone brushing their teeth, I cringe. Most people brush like the actors in movies, which is way too hard. Brushing like this wears down the teeth faster, making them more sensitive and prone to gum recession, gum disease, and cavities. Brush up on your technique, be extra gentle, and get a new toothbrush every 4-6 weeks. No, it's not a conspiracy to make you buy more toothbrushes -- any longer and the bristles wear down and become sharp and dangerous to enamel.

7. Switch to an electric toothbrush.
Electric toothbrushes do a better job of cleaning below the gum line, which is where it usually hurts the most for a hygienist to remove buildup. As long as you use it properly and let it do the brushing for you, an electric toothbrush can help you stop overbrushing. Hold it gently against each of your teeth and don't brush back and forth.

8. Be picky.
The worst is dentists and hygienists who tell you to suck it up or not to move during your cleaning. Find someone willing to go the extra mile to make you comfortable. You don’t want a hygienist who makes you so comfortable that s/he isn't removing all the buildup on your teeth, but it is completely possible to get a thorough cleaning without pain.

Mark Burhenne DDS

What did I miss in this article? Let me know your tips in the comments below!