Beginner’s Guide to Scaling and Polishing

Teeth cleanings are an essential aspect of maintaining oral and overall health. Some people are very familiar with this process, perhaps having done it every 6 months since childhood.

For those of us not as familiar with the process we would like to provide you with a beginners guide to “scaling and polishing” (as cleanings are often referred to).


Teeth being polished

Teeth being polished

First of all, why do we need frequent professional teeth cleaning?

The simple answer is because even brushing and flossing after every meal and snack cannot remove every bit of plaque and tartar that accumulates on your teeth after eating. What is more, this build up of plaque and tartar results in serious damage to your teeth and gums as well as your overall health.

Therefore, it is necessary to periodically have the remnants of these toxic materials removed by a dental professional. The procedure may be preventive – reducing the chances of disease arising, or as treatment where existing gum disease is present.

Dental cleanings may have somewhat of a bad reputation but they are really quite simple in theory. They are comprised of two basic steps, the scaling and the polishing.


Before and after dental scaling

Before and after dental scaling

So, just what is involved in scaling and polishing?

Basically, “scaling” refers to the process of manually scraping off with sharp stainless steel instruments (“hand scalers”) the hardened pieces of plaque and tartar that are stuck to your teeth. This is still an important aspect of professional cleanings.

However, modern techniques and technologies have relegated this process to being only a small part of the process. Today, we have ultrasonic scalers, for example, that can remove plaque and tartar and disease causing bacteria quicker and easier than ever before.

Where deep cleanings are required, local anesthesia is often used to make the procedure more comfortable. Root planing may also be carried out in conjunction with scaling, if periodontal disease is begin treated.


Scaling lower teeth

An ultrasonic scaler in use

Polishing” with rotary power brushes also serves to expedite the cleaning process by quickly removing tenacious stains such as those caused by coffee, tea, wine and other foods. It is a common practice for this polishing to be done with a mildly abrasive paste that includes re-mineralizing ingredients such as fluoride and calcium and the like, which serve to reinvigorate and reinforce weakened tooth structure.

After scaling and polishing, it is common for the dentist or hygienist to floss the teeth to clear out any residual or loose pieces of plaque and tartar as well to check the quality of their work.


Now, there are many people who may avoid dental cleanings because they think that scraping the teeth just isn’t good for them. However, in the hands of a skilled professional, there is no need to worry about damaging your teeth. Your enamel is the hardest substance in your body and actually dulls the stainless steel instruments used to do cleanings. Additionally, if your hygienist uses ultrasonic scalers to remove the hard deposits, then there is even less risk of damage to the teeth.

There may be some sensitivity for a period after your teeth are cleaned, particularly in cases where a lot of cleaning is needed.

Of course, there is no amount of knowledge that can change the reality of the dental cleaning experience for you. But hopefully a little insight into how the process works can help to reduce the anxiety you may experience as you sit down in the chair and hear your hygienist say “open wide”.

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