What Happens During a Routine Dental Cleaning?

December 10, 2020 | Dental Blog

Routine dental cleanings are essential if you want to maintain a healthy, bright and beautiful smile. Knowing a little more about what happens during a routine dental cleaning can make the process faster and easier. Learning what to expect can also ease any anxieties you may have about your upcoming appointment.

Patient Intake

Before your appointment begins, your dentist will need to know a little more about you. Reviewing your medical history can let your dentist know if he or she needs to accommodate a pre-existing condition, such as TMJ or allergies. Looking at your personal habits, such as alcohol or tobacco consumption, can also help a dentist give accurate advice about your oral health.


Once per year, your routine dental cleaning will start with the capturing of x-rays of your mouth. The dental assistant will fit you with a radiation vest and have you bite down on a plastic tab while he or she captures images of your teeth with a special x-ray machine. Obtaining x-rays of your mouth can allow your dentist to check for dental problems, such as cavities, as well as look for problem areas to pay attention to in the future.

Visual Exam

Next, a dental hygienist will conduct a visual exam of your mouth and teeth. The visual exam often involves the hygienist using a small mirror to examine the backs of your teeth, your gums and the rest of your mouth for signs of potential problems, such as cavities or gingivitis. The hygienist may need to check with the dentist to make sure he or she can proceed with a routine cleaning if the visual exam comes up with something concerning.

Plaque and Tartar Removal

At this stage, the actual dental cleaning will begin. A routine cleaning starts with the removal of tartar. Tartar, or calculus, is an accumulation of plaque and minerals deposited from your saliva that has hardened. Food and drink can stain tartar, making it appear yellow or discolored on your teeth.

Removing a buildup of tartar requires a metal scraping tool called a scaler. The hygienist will use the scaler between your teeth and around your gum line. Places where tartar has built up (often from going too long in between cleanings or not flossing away plaque) will require more scraping. This process should not be painful, but the sensation and sound can be uncomfortable for some patients. The hygienist will also follow up with flossing your teeth.

Cleaning and Tooth Polishing

Once all the tartar has been scraped away, the hygienist will use a special electric toothbrush and gritty toothpaste to deep-clean your teeth. The hygienist will finish the cleaning with a professional polish that tastes like normal toothpaste. You will have the chance to rinse your mouth out with a solution that contains liquid fluoride, in most cases. Finally, the hygienist may apply a fluoride treatment to protect your teeth against cavities in the future.

Results, Discussion and Education

The final stage of your routine dental cleaning is to discuss your x-rays and oral hygiene with a dentist. The dentist will come in and let you know if he or she found anything noteworthy in your x-rays, such as signs of a cavity. If so, the dentist will schedule an appointment to treat the problem. The dentist will leave you with oral hygiene tips for the future. Before you leave, you will schedule your next cleaning with the receptionist. Most dental offices send you home with free gifts, such as floss and toothpaste.

Routine dental cleanings are important for maintaining the overall health and appearance of your teeth. It can also allow a dentist to catch major problems early, saving you considerable money and the stress of a more invasive dental procedure. If you have more questions about what to expect during a routine cleaning at Dental on Central, contact our friendly team of sedation dentists in Phoenix.