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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Routine dental cleanings offer a number of benefits, including:
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.
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.
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.
Twice-yearly appointments work well for most people. However, you may need more frequent dental cleanings if you have:
Ask your dentist how often you should have 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.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/13/2023.
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