Teeth Cleaning: What to Expect

Laura Dorwart is a health journalist with expertise in disability rights, mental health, and pregnancy-related conditions. She has written for publications like SELF, The New York Times, VICE, and The Guardian.

Learn about our editorial processPublished on March 17, 2022Medically reviewedVerywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.byEdmund Khoo, DDS Medically reviewed byEdmund Khoo, DDS

Edmund Khoo, DDS, is board-certified in orthodontics and is a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics.

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Professional teeth cleaning at a dental office is an important way of maintaining your oral health. Usually done by a dental hygienist, a teeth cleaning session helps remove plaque from your teeth in order to prevent gum disease and cavities. At your checkup, your dentist will also be able to spot any signs of tooth decay and other oral health conditions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you visit your dentist at least once a year for a dental checkup and professional cleaning with a dental hygienist. The American Dental Association (ADA) also recommends that you get your teeth professionally cleaned once or twice a year.

Here’s what to expect at your next teeth cleaning appointment, including the examination, plaque removal, professional brushing and flossing, and fluoride treatment.


At your dental office, you’ll lie back in a comfortable chair to have your teeth examined and cleaned.

Before cleaning your teeth, your dental hygienist will start by examining your gums, teeth, and mouth with a small mirror. If they notice any symptoms of underlying oral health problems, they might let your dentist know whether they should proceed with your cleaning session.

At the end of your cleaning, your dentist will typically be called in to examine your teeth and gums, looking for signs of current or potential oral problems. Your dentist may also give you tips on how to brush and floss more effectively at home, which is key to maintaining your oral health.

The most common oral health conditions include periodontal diseases (gum diseases), such as gingivitis (gum inflammation) and periodontitis (damaging gum disease), as well as dental caries (also called tooth decay or cavities) and oral cancer.

Poor oral health is also linked to chronic and acute conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Among pregnant people, oral health conditions are linked to premature birth and low birth weight.

Teeth Cleaning: What to Expect

Plaque and Tartar Removal

Gum disease and tooth decay are caused by dental plaque buildup. Plaque contains bacteria that break down your tooth enamel over time. If left untreated, plaque can harden into tartar and lead to cavities, gingivitis (gum disease), or chronic periodontitis (advanced gum disease).

The purpose of professional teeth cleaning is to remove plaque and tartar. Once plaque hardens into tartar, it can't be removed by a conventional toothbrush at home.

Your dental hygienist will use a scraping tool, ultrasonic scaler, and electric brush to remove these deposits from between your teeth and along your gums.

If you already have signs of gum disease, your dental hygienist may need to perform deep cleaning with metal tools or ultrasonic instruments in order to remove plaque buildup from below the gumline. This process is called scaling and planing.

Over 47% of U.S. adults ages 30 and over show signs of periodontal disease. Untreated gingivitis and periodontitis can cause inflammation, bleeding gums, mouth pain, and even tooth loss.

7 Ways to Prevent Cavities

Professional Brushing and Flossing

Your dental hygienist will polish your teeth with an electric brushing tool and gritty toothpaste.

After polishing your teeth, your dental hygienist will use an interdental cleaner to floss in hard-to-reach places. Flossing removes food particles from between your teeth and helps prevent further plaque buildup and gingivitis.

Fluoride Treatment

Your professional dental cleaning session will usually conclude with a fluoride rinse as well as a fluoride varnish, which gets painted onto your teeth to remineralize (repair) your enamel and prevent cavities. Fluoride is a mineral that protects your tooth enamel from decay.

Some dental checkups may include X-ray imaging of your teeth, jaw, and mouth. If you visit a dentist regularly, you’ll most likely get dental X-rays once a year.

Oral Hygiene: Dental Care Basics for Healthy Teeth


Getting your teeth professionally cleaned at least once or twice a year at a dental office can help to remove plaque and tartar, prevent gum disease and cavities, and remove stains. Professional teeth cleaning is an important step in maintaining your oral health.

During a professional teeth cleaning session, a dental hygienist will remove plaque and tartar with a metal tool. Then, they will brush and floss your teeth and use a fluoride treatment to protect you from tooth decay. Your dentist will also examine your teeth and mouth for any signs or symptoms of oral health conditions.

A Word From Verywell

Professional teeth cleaning is a good way to maintain your oral hygiene and prevent dental problems in the future. Schedule at least one professional cleaning with your dentist each year to take care of your oral health.

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