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What happens at a dental cleaning?

A dental cleaning is in itself dental treatment, and therefore should not be performed prior to an oral examination and diagnosis of oral health including the status of the gums (periodontal health). It is important that the patient be aware of other existing problems including decay, defective or missing fillings, fractured teeth and discolorations that may be resolved with a dental prophylaxis. Furthermore, depending on the status of the gums, additional future gum therapy may be indicated to treat existing gum disease. If these problems are not reviewed, the patient may then feel that they either should have been discussed prior to the cleaning, or even that the problems are the result of the cleaning.

The dental cleaning procedure, also known as a dental prophylaxis, involves removal of stain and calculus (tartar) above the gum. This may be performed with special hand instruments and/or ultrasonic scalers. Also, the stain is removed and teeth are polished with prophylaxis paste formulated specifically for this procedure. Air abrasion techniques may also be utilized in a dental cleaning.
A professional dental cleaning, also called a prophylaxis, is an important part of good oral hygiene. That's because only a dentist or dental hygienist can remove plaque, calculus (tartar) and stains from your teeth. These regular dental cleanings can help ensure you keep your smile white and also help prevent cavities and gum disease.
At a regular dental cleaning, your dentist or dental hygienist will review your dental history, asking questions about your daily home care, any unusual feelings you've had in your teeth, and previous dental problems. The dentist or hygienist will need to know if you have a health condition such as diabetes, which can affect the teeth. In addition, let him or her know if you're taking any medications.

The dental hygienist may start first by examining your mouth and teeth and taking x-rays to check for tooth movement, tooth decay, infections, or impacted teeth. The hygienist will perform a cleaning, which uses a special ultrasonic machine that breaks up hardened deposits of plaque and tartar. Gum disease is caused by plaque, a colorless film of bacteria that coats your teeth. If allowed to harden, the film turns into tartar (calculus).

After polishing the teeth to make it difficult for plaque to stick to them, the dentist will come into the exam room and check the x-rays and your mouth. The dentist will peer at the roof of your mouth using a tiny mirror. He or she will pull your tongue up and check for anything abnormal on its sides or underneath it. If the x-rays show signs of a cavity or abscess, your dentist will discuss this with you. Also, your dentist will give you some teeth brushing tips to help you fight tooth decay and have a healthy mouth.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.