What is  Dental Cleaning

A dental cleaning is usually recommended every six months are part of your semi-annual dental checkup.  So what encompasses dental cleaning?  Typically done by your gentle dental hygienist or dentist most cleanings take 30 to 40 minutes.  The main goal of the cleaning is to remove food debris and plaque on the teeth and adjacent gum tissues and to help resolve bleeding gums.  A dental cleaning can also help lighten teeth by removing dark colored plaque caused by bacteria and some foods and drinks (i.e. coffee, tea).

Left untreated, the plaque harbors bacteria which can lead to tooth decay (cavities), gum disease, and halitosis, bad breath.  Periodontal probing may also be done during this time to assess the health of your gums.  At the end of your cleaning appointment, your teeth should typically feel smooth and fresh, and free of most external stains.

There are two types of cleanings: regular cleaning (prophy) and deep cleaning (scaling and root planning).


A “traditional” regular dental cleaning, or also called adult prophylaxis, is indicated for gums that are healthy (no bleeding) to minimal inflammation (gingivitis: light gingival puffiness and bleeding) with little to no bone involvement.  A regular cleaning begins with a very light and gentle scaling and root planing.  Scaling is the removal of plaque, hardened debris and tartar from the tooth, and is done at and above the gum line.  It’s usually done with a hand instrument, but new advanced technology has enabled the scaling to be also done with an electronic ultrasonic device.  This ultrasonic tool allows cleanings to be done efficiently, quickly, and gently.

Root planning goes beyond the gum line and extends onto the root surfaces, where the spaces or “pockets” below the gums are cleaned.  For normal healthy gums and those with minimal gingivitis, gingival pockets are minimal in size (i.e 3mm or less).

In general, regular cleanings (adult prophy) every 6 months is recommended to help control plaque buildup, and also to assess the condition of the teeth and gingival health.


Deep cleaning (scaling and root planning) is indicated for those with mild, moderate, and advanced gum and bone disease also called periodontitis.  Bone disease is a progressive extension of gingivitis, and periodontitis is generally classified as mild, moderate, and advanced depending on the amount of bone affected, the level of periodontal pocketing, and calculus/tartar buildup.

The bacteria that normally resides around the gums have extended down to the level of the bony structures supporting the teeth.  The pockets thus become deeper (i.e. >4-5, 6, 7+mm) and harbor more bacteria and plaque.  And with the deep pockets, the gums become more inflamed and likely to have bleeding and infection.

During a deep cleaning, the scaler is extended beyond the gum line into the pockets to remove the bacteria, plaque, and tartar trapped beneath the gum line.  Sometimes a deep cleaning may take more than one appointment, and the gums may be numbed with a topical or local anesthetic for increased comfort.

After completion of the deep cleaning, it is recommended that one has dental cleanings every 3-4 months.  Called “periodontal maintenance” the purpose of these cleanings and visits is to control and monitor the bone levels; more frequent periodontal cleanings are recommended as the bacteria in the deeper pockets tend to reoccur more frequently and aggressively.


The coronal polish is usually the last step in the dental cleaning, though sometimes a polish may be done first if there is an excessive plaque.  After the initial steps of the dental cleanings are done, parts of the teeth may feel a little rough.  The dental hygienist or assistant will use a rubber cup spinning at very low speeds to smooth and polish the teeth and root surfaces.  And typically during the polish, a fine paste containing a mild abrasive to help remove extrinsic (external) stains and plaque is used, and to also help smooth out the tooth’s enamel.

If you have any questions about dental cleanings, contact us at (425) 614-1600.

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