The ‘Scale and Polish’ Procedure

A scale and polish is a very common dental treatment which is carried out as a form of oral preventative medicine. In other words, it is designed to form part of a dental hygiene plan with the aim of keeping your teeth clean and healthy.

This procedure is also known as ‘dental cleaning’ and along 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 affect 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 tartar formation, especially around the gums then gingivitis can occur. The danger with this is that it can lead to the more serious periodontal gum disease.

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 tartar. And, it will help to prevent gum disease.

If any of these happen to your teeth then it could lead to you loosing a tooth or even several teeth.

What does a scale and polish involve?

The ‘scale’ part of the procedure involves the dentist using an ultrasound 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. Air abrasion can be used as a tooth whitening method as well as preparing a tooth for a filling, and is often preferred to the dreaded drill!

This relatively new approach involves a machine which emits a fine stream of aluminium oxide particles that will remove plaque and tartar from the teeth. It is often referred to as ‘sandblasting’ as it ‘strips’ these deposits away from the teeth.

If your dentist uses an air abrasion machine then he or she will place a ‘dental dam’ in your mouth to protect those teeth which do not require treatment. You and your dentist will also have to wear protective goggles to prevent any of these particles getting into your eyes.

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 which is applied to your teeth. A special paste called a ‘prophylaxis’ is inserted into this cup and together with the spinning cup, will 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 acid.

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. However, a topical numbing gel can be used which is a form of local anaesthetic and will freeze the area to be treated.

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