Dental Cleanings are not a One Size Fits All

There is nothing like the feeling of freshly cleaned and polished teeth.  A professional teeth cleaning by a dentist or hygienist is the only way to remove tartar (hardened plaque) and plaque in the areas brushing and floss cannot reach.

Many people think of a teeth cleaning as just the polishing of the tooth enamel above the gum line. But bacteria can exist below the gum line, too. The type and frequency of procedure you need to address the bacteria in your mouth depends on the clinical findings of the exam and x-rays.

Specific types of cleanings are used to address specific conditions in your mouth.  Conditions may change throughout your life and can be affected by changes in health, medications, hormones, and stress.  These are the types of dental cleaning your dentist or hygienist may suggest for you:

Prophylaxis (Prophy)

A prophy is a healthy mouth cleaning and is recommended when no signs of gum disease or bone loss exists. If you only need to have your teeth cleaned above and at the gumline to remove surface stains and plaque, a prophy will suffice.  Depending on your oral homecare and saliva chemistry, your hygienist will suggest a prophy at three, four, or six-month intervals.


A debridement is not actually considered a cleaning.  This procedure removes heavy build-up of plaque and tartar so your gums, bone, and teeth can be assessed accurately for the type of cleaning that would best suit your situation.  A debridement is usually necessary if you have not had your teeth cleaned in over a year.

Scaling in the Presence of Inflammation (Gingivitis Therapy)

Gingivitis is a reversable form of periodontal (or gum) disease. There may be plaque build up just below the gumline causing irritation, inflammation, and bleeding.  Typically, there is no bone loss or pocketing present.  In this situation, the doctor or hygienist may suggest “a catch-up cleaning” then bring you back in four weeks to recheck your mouth.

Scaling & Root Planing (SRP)

If you are diagnosed with active periodontal disease you will require treatment above and below the gum line.  Scaling and Root Planing is a non-surgical treatment that removes build-up, smooths out exposed root surfaces and may include the application of localized antibiotics. SRP often takes two to four visits to complete.

Periodontal Maintenance

After Scaling & Root Planing, Periodontal Maintenance is the type of cleaning you will need.  Since periodontal disease is a systemic disease like diabetes, it requires consistent monitoring to manage and prevent further bone loss.  This type of cleaning is recommended every three or four months to disrupt the bacteria that causes gum disease.

The type of dental cleaning that is perfect for you depends on your dental health and habits.  By following the recommendation of your dentist or hygienist, you can get and keep a healthy, beautiful smile.