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Dental Polishing

Dental Polishing

Dental polishing is a routine procedure performed during a dental cleaning or prophylaxis, primarily aimed at removing surface stains and making the teeth appear whiter and brighter. It is usually the final step after scaling, where plaque, calculus (tartar), and stains are removed from the tooth surfaces, including those hard-to-reach areas between the teeth and near the gums.

Purpose and Benefits

  • Smoothens Tooth Surfaces: Polishing smooths the surfaces of the teeth, making it more difficult for plaque and debris to adhere, potentially reducing the risk of cavities and gum disease.
  • Removes Stains: It effectively removes external stains from the teeth caused by food, drink (like coffee, tea, and red wine), or tobacco, enhancing the aesthetic appearance of the smile.
  • Prepares Teeth for Further Treatment: In some cases, polishing is used to prepare the tooth surface for dental procedures such as the application of sealants or orthodontic treatments.

How Dental Polishing is Performed

Dental polishing is generally performed using either a slow-speed dental handpiece with a soft rubber cup or brush attachment, or an air-polishing device. The choice of equipment and polishing agent depends on the patient’s specific needs and the dentist’s or dental hygienist’s preference.

  • Rubber Cup Polishing: A soft, rubber cup is attached to the dental handpiece, and a prophylactic paste (prophy paste) with an abrasive texture is applied. The cup spins on the surfaces of the teeth, smoothing and cleaning them. The paste comes in various grits (coarse, medium, fine) and flavors, chosen based on the patient’s dental condition and preference.
  • Air Polishing: This technique uses a device that delivers a stream of pressurized air and water along with a fine, abrasive powder (commonly sodium bicarbonate, glycine, or calcium carbonate). It is particularly effective for removing stains, soft deposits, and plaque, and it’s less abrasive to the tooth surface compared to traditional polishing methods. Air polishing is also beneficial for cleaning around orthodontic brackets and within periodontal pockets.

Considerations and Limitations

  • Selective Polishing: Some dental professionals practice selective polishing, a philosophy where only those teeth with stains are polished. The rationale is to avoid unnecessary removal of the outermost layer of the enamel or cementum, preserving the tooth structure.
  • Not a Replacement for Whitening: While polishing can remove surface stains, it does not change the intrinsic color of the teeth. Patients desiring a brighter, whiter smile may need to consider professional teeth whitening procedures.
  • Sensitivity: Some patients may experience temporary sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures after polishing, especially if they have receding gums or enamel wear.
Dental polishing is a safe and effective component of oral hygiene care that contributes to the overall health and aesthetics of the smile. It’s recommended as part of regular dental check-ups and cleanings, typically every six months, although the frequency can vary based on an individual’s oral health status and risk factors.

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