Dental cleanings involve removing plaque (soft, sticky, bacteria infested film) and tartar (calculus) deposits that have built up on the teeth over time. Your teeth are continually bathed in saliva which contains calcium and other substances which help strengthen and protect the teeth. While this is a good thing, it also means that we tend to get a build-up of calcium deposits on the teeth. This chalky substance will eventually build up over time, like limescale in a pipe or kettle. Usually it is tooth coloured and can easily be mistaken as part of the teeth, but it also can vary from brown to black in colour.
The purpose of the cleaning and polishing is basically to leave the surfaces of the teeth clean and smooth so that bacteria are unable to stick to them and you have a better chance of keeping the teeth clean during your regular home care.
The dental hygienist here at O'care use specialized state-of-the-art instruments to gently remove these deposits without harming the teeth.
Commonly used first is an ultrasonic instrument which uses tickling vibrations to knock larger pieces of tartar loose. It also sprays a cooling mist of water while it works to wash away debris and keep the area at a proper temperature. The device typically emits a humming or high pitched whistling sound.
The ultrasonic instrument tips are curved and rounded and are always kept in motion around the teeth. They are by no means sharp since their purpose is to knock tartar loose and not to cut into the teeth. It is best to inform the operator if the sensations are too strong or ticklish so that they can adjust the setting appropriately on the device or modify the pressure applied.
With larger deposits that have hardened on, it can take some time to remove these, just like trying to remove baked-on grime on a stove that has been left over a long time. So your cleaning may take longer than future cleanings.
Once the larger pieces of tartar are gone, the dental worker will switch to finer hand tools to remove smaller deposits and smoothen the tooth surfaces. These tools are curved and shaped to match the curves of the teeth. They allow smaller tartar deposits to be removed by carefully scraping them off with a gentle to moderate amount of pressure. Just like taking a scrubbing brush to a soiled pot, the dental worker has to get the areas clean and smooth.
Once all the surfaces are smooth, the dental worker may polish your teeth. Polishing is done using a slow speed handpiece with a soft rubber cup that spins on the end. Prophylaxis (short for prophy) paste - a special gritty toothpaste-like material - is scooped up like ice cream into the cup and spun around on the teeth to make them shiny smooth.
Most people find that cleanings are painless, and find the sensations described above - tickling vibrations, the cooling mist of water, and the feeling of pressure during "scraping" - do not cause discomfort. A lot of people even report that they enjoy cleanings and the lovely smooth feel of their teeth afterwards! There may be odd zingy sensations, but many people don't mind as they only last a nanosecond.
Be sure to let us know if you find things are getting too uncomfortable for your liking. We can recommend various options to make the cleaning more enjoyable.
In case you may have had painful cleaning experiences in the past, switching to a gentle hygienist/dentist and perhaps a spot of nitrous oxide can often make all the difference. You could also choose to be numbed. If you opt for local anaesthetic, you may want to break down the cleaning into 2 visits: dentists don't like numbing both sides of the mouth at the same time, because people may accidentally bite their tongue until the numbness has worn off. If you find the scaling a bit uncomfortable because the gum tissues (rather than the teeth themselves) are sensitive, topical numbing gels can be used.