What to Expect at a Routine Dental Cleaning

What to Expect at a Routine Dental Cleaning

Regular dental cleanings are essential in preventing the buildup of plaque and tartar. Your dentist can catch and treat early signs of gingivitis and cavities. A regular dental cleaning is recommended usually once every six months. Of course, this time frame can vary depending on the person. Some people may need a cleaning every three months and others may only need to go every nine to twelve months. 

Dental plaque is a sticky deposit on the teeth that is constantly forming on the surface of your teeth. Sugary and starchy foods mix with the saliva in your mouth to create these bacteria filled deposits where your gums and teeth meet. Brushing and flossing can help remove these deposits, but if not done regularly and consistently, tartar can form. Plaque can turn into tartar, or dental calculus, if not removed within 48 hours. Tatar may be yellow or brown in color and is strongly bonded to the tooth’s enamel. Therefore, it can only be safely removed by a dental professional. 

Complications of plaque and tartar:

  • Tooth decay 
  • Infection
  • Abscessed tooth 
  • Periodontal disease 
  • Gum disease

Teeth and gum examination

The dental hygienist will use a small mirror to check your mouth for any abnormalities such as bumps or sores. They will also check for any signs of inflamed gums which would suggest gingivitis or gum disease, as well as any dark spots on the teeth which would suggest cavities. 

A Physical Cleaning

A 30–60-minute procedure that is done at least once a year to remove plaque buildup and tartar. A dental scaler is used to scrape away and clear the plaque and tartar. Then a gritty toothpaste is used to polish the teeth with an electric toothbrush.


A toothbrush will only brush away bacteria from 3 out of 5 areas of your teeth. You are missing the two side surface areas of your tooth by not flossing or up to 40% of the tooth’s surface. During your cleaning, about an 18-inch-long piece of floss will be used to remove any food debris or plaque. 

Probing and Charting 

A periodontal probe is a thin instrument with millimeter increment marks used to measure the depth of the pockets between your gums and teeth. A 1-3mm deep pocket indicates healthy gums. While 4mm or greater indicates mild to severe gum inflammation. 


At this point you will rinse out any leftover debris from the previous cleaning. The rinse may be water, but it is most commonly liquid fluoride mouthwash.


Bitewings are the most common form of x-rays taken and used to diagnose gum disease and cavities between teeth. While full set x-rays allow dentists to view all of your teeth and surrounding bone. From there the dentist will be able to look for cavities, cysts, tumors, abscesses, impacted teeth and gum disease. Bitewing x-rays should be taken once every year, while a full set of x-rays should be taken once every three years. 

Fluoride Treatment (some offices) 

Depending on the state of your teeth and overall oral health, your dentist may recommend applying a fluoride treatment every 6-12 months. The fluoride treatment is applied on the surface on each tooth and provides extra protection to your teeth and enamel. 

Doctor Visit 

At the end of your visit the doctor will look at the x-rays to check if any cavities are present and fillings are needed. 

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