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How Does a Tooth Polishing Procedure Work

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Smooth, shiny, stain-free teeth are a real confidence booster, and one way to achieve a bright, attractive smile is through tooth polishing. Many dental practices offer polishing after a dental treatment or as the final stage of a routine dental visit. In busy practices, dental hygienists perform this service, and in some practices dentists may also do it as well.

Cleaning and Polishing Teeth

When layers of plaque build-up on teeth, they harden and form a tough mineral substance called tartar. Bacteria can live beneath tartar and cause dental diseases and dental hygienists remove tartar in a procedure called scaling . After scraping off the hard tartar with special instruments, the hygienist then polishes the teeth. Dental polishing removes surface stains on teeth and leaves them shiny and smooth, putting the finishing touches on a protective dental treatment.

Tooth Polishing Procedures

Tooth polishing is a painless dental procedure, and some patients enjoy it. The dental hygienist uses either a small, soft rubber cup and polishing paste. If a patient has severe stain, an air polishing system which is a jet of pressurized air and water mixed with an abrasive agent to polish the teeth can be used. An article in the Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology (JISP) reports that some dental hygienists provide selective polishing, which means they only polish teeth that remain stained after scaling. Another option is therapeutic polishing, which helps remove bacteria from tooth roots that are exposed during dental surgery.

Polishing Pastes for Teeth

Tooth polishing pastes are called prophy pastes, an abbreviation of prophylaxis that refers to the protective, disease-preventing effects of tooth cleaning and polishing. Dental hygienists choose between fine, medium and coarse pastes to fill the rubber cup that delivers the paste to the tooth surface. Coarse and medium pastes are most effective at removing stains quickly, according to the AAOSH, but they can also scratch and roughen the tooth enamel, thus making it more likely to develop stains later. Fine pastes are less damaging and create a more highly polished finish, but sometimes can be less effective at removing stains. JISP states that the abrasive agents most often used in prophy are calcium carbonate and pumice flour.

Air Polishing for Teeth

A review of several studies, published by the Journal of Dental Hygiene , shows that polishing with a jet of air, water and an abrasive agent removes stains more effectively and quickly than polishing with a rubber cup and prophy. What's more, air polishing is generally less harsh on tooth enamel. Sodium bicarbonate is often used as the abrasive agent in air polishing, but glycine (a naturally-occurring amino acid) is less abrasive and just as effective.

Tooth Polishing Precautions

If there is gum recession and there is exposure of the cementum, use of a mild polishing paste may be recommended so that there is no sensitivity to the tooth surface that can occur. If patients have problems like teeth sensitivity, untreated cavities, exposed dentin or roots, and diseased or receding gums, these oral issues should be treated before the teeth are scaled and polished. Finally, patients who should not have their teeth polished include people who have respiratory problems, hypertension, conditions that weaken tooth enamel or allergies to the abrasive agents, according to the Journal of Dental Hygiene.

Although tooth polishing isn't an essential dental treatment, it can help patients feel confident about the look of their teeth and encourage good oral care habits. If your teeth have surface stains, speak to your dentist about whether polishing would help improve their appearance.