Smooth, shiny, stain-free teeth are a real confidence booster. 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. Dental hygienists generally perform this service in busy practices, but dentists may perform the polishing themselves in some practices.
When layers of plaque build up on the teeth, they harden and form a tough mineral substance called tartar. Germs can live beneath tartar and cause dental problems. To help prevent this, dental hygienists remove tartar in a procedure called scaling. After scraping off the hard tartar with special instruments, the hygienist polishes the teeth. Dental polishing removes surface stains on the teeth and leaves them shiny and smooth, putting the finishing touches on a protective dental treatment.
Tooth polishing is a painless dental procedure, and some patients enjoy it. The dental hygienist uses a small, soft rubber cup and polishing paste. If a patient has severe stains, an air polishing system may be used - this involves a jet of pressurised air and water mixed with an abrasive agent to polish the teeth. 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 germs from tooth roots that are exposed during dental surgery.
Tooth polishing pastes are called prophy pastes, an abbreviation of prophylaxis that refers to the protective 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 American Academy for Oral Systemic Health, but they can also scratch and roughen the tooth enamel, thus making it more likely to develop stains at a later stage. Fine pastes are less damaging and create a more highly polished finish, but can be less effective at removing stains. The JISP states that the abrasive agents most often used in prophy are calcium carbonate and pumice flour.
Published by the Journal of Dental Hygiene, a review of several studies 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. In addition, 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.
If there is gum recession and the cementum is exposed, the use of a mild polishing paste may be recommended to ensure there is no sensitivity to the tooth surface. If patients have problems like teeth sensitivity, untreated cavities, exposed dentin or roots, and problematic or receding gums, these oral issues should be treated before the teeth are scaled and polished. Lastly, according to the Journal of Dental Hygiene, patients who should not have their teeth polished include the following: people suffering from respiratory problems, hypertension, conditions that weaken tooth enamel, or allergies to the abrasive agents.
Although tooth polishing is not 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, ask your dentist whether polishing would help improve their appearance.