Professional cleaning involves the removal of plaque and calculus. Plaque is a thin layer of film that forms on the teeth. It is comprised of bacteria from food and saliva. The bacteria in plaque, if left untreated, eats away at the enamel of the tooth and may cause tooth decay, inflammation of the gums, periodontitis (gum disease), and even tooth loss. When plaque has been left on the teeth and hardens, it becomes calculus, which forms on the teeth and gum above the gum line. Calculus can only be removed using professional dental instruments.
Professional cleanings may be done by a dentist or Registered Dental Hygienist (RDA). A Dental Assistant may also be present during your appointment. During routine cleanings, dentists do not use any invasive tools such as drills, and there is nothing to be nervous about. The treatment should only take around thirty minutes, and may include the following:
- Scaling: Your dentist or hygienist will use a dental scaler and other hand-held instruments to gently remove plaque and tartar from the surface of the teeth. The deposits will be carefully scraped off of the teeth, and washed and suctioned away with an air-water syringe.
- Tooth polishing: The removal of unsightly stains and plaque that was not removed during brushing or scaling. The dentist or RDA will likely use an ultrasonic instrument that moves continually in circular motions to remove the stains. This might cause a slight "tickling" sensation, but should not be uncomfortable. The air-water syringe will be used to suction away excess saliva and water. If there is a lot of plaque and tartar build-up, the polishing may take longer than normal. After the polishing, the teeth will usually have a smooth, clean feeling.
- Root planning: Root planning may be necessary if gums have either started to recede or if calculus has built up around the roots of the teeth. Much like with scaling, ultrasonic instruments will be used to remove plaque and debris from the teeth, providing a deep cleansing effect.
Application of fluoride: After the cleaning is complete, the dentist or RDA gives you a fluoride treatment. Fluoride foam or gel is applied topically to the teeth, usually for about thirty seconds. Sometimes it is given to the patient as a rinse, which the patient would swish around in their mouth like mouthwash and then spit out. The fluoride helps to strengthen and protect the teeth from cavities and decay. The dentist will ask you not to eat or drink anything immediately after the fluoride treatment has been applied.
It is a good idea to book an appointment for a professional dental cleaning every six months as a preventative measure. Plaque and tartar build-up will be carefully removed from your teeth, providing them with a deeper clean than just brushing and flossing. It will also give you an opportunity to touch base with your dentist about any oral health concerns you may have, and to nip and potential problems in the bud early on.