A scale and polish (also known as a dental cleaning), is a very common dental treatment which is carried out as a form of oral preventative medicine. It is designed to form part of every treatment plan with the aim of keeping your teeth clean and healthy. A scale and polish in conjunction with tooth brushing, flossing, mouthwashes and healthy eating can help to reduce the risk of gum disease and tooth decay
So, why do you need a ‘scale and polish?’
Your teeth come under constant attack from the starches and sugars present in our food which are released as we eat. When this combines with plaque (the sticky bacterial film that forms on the teeth over time) it produces an acid which is harmful to our teeth.
This plaque forms on the surface of and between our teeth and can also accumulate on the gum line. If is not removed then it will harden and form calculus or ‘tartar’ – a yellow or brown mineral deposit which causes the teeth to have a rough or ‘crusty’ appearance. This makes them vulnerable to further plaque attacks.
Plaque can corrode the teeth over time which causes cavities and tooth decay as well as bad breath. If it leads to calculus formation, especially around the gums then gingivitis (gum disease) can occur. The danger with this is that it can lead to the more serious periodontal gum disease and loosening of ones teeth.
A scale and polish can remove plaque and leave your teeth feeling nice and smooth. This will also prevent bacteria sticking to them (which they are able to on teeth with a rough surface) which can lead to the build up of calculus and hence help to prevent gum disease.
What does a scale and polish involve?
The ‘scale’ part of the procedure involves the dentist using an ultrasonic device which emits vibrations to loosen large areas of tartar. It will spray a cooling mist at the same time which washes away the debris. If your teeth are heavily stained then ‘air abrasion’ may be required. This tends to be relatively painless although you may experience some pain if these particles hit the gums as well as your teeth. However, your dentist will be aware of this and will try and minimise the risk of this happening.
Following this the dentist will use a series of hand tools called scalers and curettes to remove smaller deposits as well as smoothing the surface of the teeth. Your dentist will use these to scrape away these deposits.
Once your teeth are beautifully smooth the dentist will then give them a polish. This means using a handpiece with a soft, spinning rubber cup or brush, which is applied to your teeth. A special paste is used to give your teeth a shiny appearance.
As a final flourish the dentist may apply fluoride. Fluoride is good at strengthening the teeth as well as providing essential minerals to any teeth that have been eroded by the acid caused by plaque bacteria.
Does scale and polish hurt?
A scale & polish tends to be painless with many patients reporting ‘tickling’ or ‘scraping’ sensations. It is likely to be painful if you have sore gums, badly worn teeth or a dentist who is less than gentle. In severe cases a topical numbing gel or local anaesthetic can be used to ensure painless treatment.