Dental Cleaning

Dental cleanings are essential for maintaining optimal oral health and function. During these visits, a dental hygienist will clean, polish and floss your teeth to remove hardened plaque, tartar and bacteria. When combined with diligent brushing and flossing at home, dental cleanings help achieve and maintain healthy teeth and gums.


What is a full dental cleaning?

Dental cleanings are key to maintaining healthy teeth and gums. During a dental cleaning, a dentist or dental hygienist will remove bacteria, plaque and tartar buildup from your teeth surfaces. They may also perform other preventive services during the same visit, such as dental sealants and fluoride treatments.

If you have dental fears or anxieties, talk to your dentist. Many providers offer sedation dentistry options to help you stay comfortable and relaxed during your visit.

Types of dental cleanings

There are different types of dental cleanings, based on your needs. But all have the same end goal — to remove harmful bacteria and reduce your risk for dental issues.

  • Prophylaxis. This is a routine, preventive cleaning for people who have healthy teeth and gums overall. It’s the most common type of dental cleaning. This article focuses primarily on prophylaxis.
  • Gross debridement. People who haven’t been to the dentist in over a year, or who have extensive plaque buildup, can benefit from a gross debridement. It’s similar to a typical prophylaxis, but it may take longer. The main purpose of debridement is to determine if there are any issues that weren’t initially diagnosed before the dental cleaning.
  • Scaling and root planing. Also known as a deep dental cleaning, scaling and root planing reaches deep beneath your gum line to flush out bacteria and hardened tartar (calculus) around your teeth roots. Dentists reserve this procedure for those with mild to moderate periodontitis (gum disease). People who undergo scaling and root planing receive local anesthesia to numb their gums during the procedure.

How often should you get a dental cleaning?

According to the American Dental Association, people should schedule teeth cleanings at regular intervals recommended by their dentist. For many people, this will be every six months. But that could change based on your unique oral health needs.


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Procedure Details

What is involved in a cleaning at the dentist?

Dental cleanings always involve scaling and polishing your teeth. Depending on your needs, your dentist or hygienist may also recommend other diagnostic and preventive treatments.

Treatments commonly performed during a dental cleaning include:


During this step, your dentist or hygienist will use hand instruments called scalers to remove plaque and tartar from your teeth surfaces. In some instances, they may also use an ultrasonic scaler, which vibrates and sprays a jet of water. You might hear scraping sounds during this step, but it shouldn’t hurt.


Your dentist or hygienist will polish your teeth using a soft rubber cup and a special paste or pumice. This removes the biofilm on your teeth surfaces and reduces plaque buildup without damaging your enamel.

Preventive treatments

Depending on your unique oral health needs, your dentist or hygienist may recommend other preventive services like dental sealants or fluoride treatments. If you have back teeth (premolars or molars) with deep grooves or crevices, dental sealants can help protect these areas from harmful, cavity-causing bacteria. Fluoride treatments help strengthen your enamel and reduce your risk for cavities. Children and adults alike can benefit from sealants and fluoride treatments. Ask your dentist if these preventive treatments are right for you.

Dental X-rays

Most people need new dental X-rays every six to 36 months. However, if you have an issue that requires regular monitoring, you may need more frequent X-rays. Routine X-rays are essential for the diagnosis and treatment of dental conditions.

Treatment recommendations

If your dentist or hygienist finds anything concerning during your dental cleaning — such as cavities or gum disease — they’ll discuss your treatment options with you in detail.

How long does a dental cleaning take?

On average, routine dental cleanings take between 30 minutes and an hour. If you’re undergoing debridement or scaling and root planing, it could take longer.


Risks / Benefits

What are the advantages of regular dental cleanings?

Routine dental cleanings offer a number of benefits, including:

  • Reduced risk of serious oral health issues, like cavities and gum disease.
  • Improved whole-body health. For years, healthcare providers have recognized the link between oral health and whole-body health. Routine teeth cleanings can help reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke and dementia.
  • Bad breath prevention. Hardened plaque and tartar can cause bad breath. Routine cleanings can help keep halitosis at bay by removing harmful microbes (microorganisms that cause disease) from your teeth surfaces.
  • Reduced cost. Preventive dental care, such as dental cleanings, help stop issues before they start. This can save you a lot of time, worry and money in the long run.

What are the risks or complications of routine dental cleanings?

Dental cleanings are safe and effective. While there aren’t any risks or complications, you may experience some temporary side effects, such as teeth sensitivity or sore gums.

To manage discomfort, take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, naproxen or ibuprofen. Tenderness should go away in a few days.


Recovery and Outlook

Are dental cleanings worth it?

Dental cleanings are a necessary part of oral healthcare. Preventive treatments are much more affordable than restorative treatments like fillings, crowns or bridges. Teeth cleanings reduce your risk for common oral health issues. This means they can actually help you save money overall.

When To Call the Doctor

When should I see my dentist?

You should schedule routine cleanings with your dentist or hygienist at least once every six months. Ask your dentist if twice-a-year cleanings are right for you. They may want to see you more frequently if you’re prone to cavities or gum disease.

In addition to routine dental cleanings, be sure to talk to your dentist if you develop new or concerning symptoms, such as a toothache, bleeding gums, loose teeth or other issues. The sooner you receive treatment, the better your chances for lasting and improved oral health.

Additional Details

Who needs more frequent dental cleanings?

Twice-yearly appointments work well for most people. However, you may need more frequent dental cleanings if you have:

  • Gum disease.
  • Family members with a history of plaque build-up or cavities.
  • A weakened immune system.
  • Other illnesses or have been experiencing a lot of stress. (Some conditions can cause changes in your mouth.)

Ask your dentist how often you should have your teeth cleaned.

Why is it important to get your teeth cleaned?

Routine dental cleanings are essential to maintain your best oral health. Teeth cleanings get rid of debris, plaque, tartar and biofilm (a thin film of bacteria) that you can’t remove with brushing and flossing alone.

Think about washing your car. Spraying your car with a water hose gets rid of large chunks of dirt and debris. But if you run your finger along the door, you’ll still notice a thin layer of dirt left behind. You can only get rid of that thin layer of dirt if you use a sponge and a little elbow grease. Brushing and flossing at home is like spraying off your car. Professional dental cleanings take care of what’s left behind. For optimal oral health, you need a combination of good at-home oral hygiene and professional dental cleanings.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Dental cleanings are critical for maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Most people need six-month cleanings — but you should ask your dentist to be sure. If you have dental anxiety that’s keeping you from receiving routine dental care, tell your dentist about it. Many practices provide sedation dentistry options to keep you comfortable during your appointment.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 01/13/2023.

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