When you go to the dentist for a cleaning appointment, they will typically start by scraping the tartar off your teeth via a process called scaling. Then, they will follow up by polishing your teeth with an electronic, rotating tool. Most patients just take this service for granted and don't put too much thought into it. But if you dwell on it a while longer, you may realize you have some of the following questions about tooth polishing.
What is in the polish that dentists use?
The polish that dentists use is not just toothpaste, as some people believe. Rather, it tends to be a mixture of pumice stone and flavorings. The pumice gives the polish enough grit that it's able to abrade away stains and plaque from the exterior of your teeth, but not so much grit that it damages your tooth enamel. The flavorings make the polishing experience more enjoyable as pumice can taste like dirt or sand on its own. The other key ingredient in most dental polishes is fluoride. This mineral, when introduced to the surface of your teeth, helps keep your tooth enamel hard and resistant to decay.
What does dental polishing actually do?
Dental polishing serves a few different purposes. First, it helps remove the tiny remnants of tartar and plaque from your teeth that were not removed via scaling. Second, it helps give the surface of your teeth a smoother texture, so that at least temporarily, they are less likely to cling onto residue, stains, and food debris. Third, it strengthens your teeth via fluoride, as mentioned above. And fourth, polishing helps remove surface stains so your teeth look whiter and cleaner after your cleaning appointment.
Is dental polishing necessary?
Sometimes patients who are on a tight budget wonder if this part of the cleaning appointment is really necessary. It's easy to assume polishing is not necessary since the very name of the service — polishing — makes it seem like a cosmetic service. But in fact, dental polishing is an important part of the dental cleaning service. It helps prevent cavities by removing lingering debris and providing fluoride to your teeth. Of course, it works best when paired with scaling. Cutting polishing out of your dental services isn't really a smart way to save money in the long run since it may lead to bigger tooth problems later on.
The next time you have your teeth polished, you will have a better understanding of what's going on and why it's important. This service is more than cosmetic, and a little more nuanced than it may seem.
Talk to your dentist to learn more.