Teeth Cleaning – Three Different Methods


A Dental Hygiene Primer: Polishing Teeth and Ultrasonic Cleaning

When you get your teeth cleaned at the dentist, there are motorized devices that the hygienist uses which you would not normally have at home. The 3 most common are rubber cups, air-powder polishing and ultrasonic cleaners.

Rubber Cups

According to Wikipedia, “Rubber cups are used in the hand-piece. Polishing paste, prophylactic paste, usually containing fluoride,is used with the rubber cups for polishing. Rubber cups should not be used over the cementum area as it may remove a layer of cementum at the cervical area.”(Cervical means ‘where the crown of the tooth meets the root’).

Air-Powder Polishing

” Air-powder polishing is used with a specially designed handpiece. This device is called Prophy-jet. It delivers an air-powder slurry of warm water and sodium bicarbonate for polishing. It is very effective for the removal of extrinsic stains and soft deposits.”

Ultrasonic Cleaner

The third group of common dental devices is the ultrasonic cleaner, frequently called the Cavitron. This is more for removing plaque and calculus (tartar) with an instrument that uses ultrasonic vibrations and water. If a patient has a pacemaker, there is concern that this device may interfere with that.

According to the National Institute of Health, the polishing paste is made of flour of pumice, glycerine, fluoride (either sodium fluoride or stannous fluoride) and a color additive. There are products without fluoride, for those who prefer no fluoride.

Pros and Cons

There are some contraindications for using an air polishing device: restricted sodium devices; respiratory, renal or metabollic disease; infectious diseases, children; patients on diuretics or long-term steroid use; titanium implants. Patients with a history of TB, HIV or hepatitis for example should not have air polishing.

Another point on air polishing is that some patients just hate it and others insist on it. The downside is that it’s gritty and can sometimes make the gums feel like they’ve been slightly traumatized. The proponents of this think their teeth just don’t feel clean if they don’t have air polishing. It’s about 50-50 from those I’ve talked to.

So, these are some of the choices that a dental team has to make when cleaning your teeth. Much of this is personal preference of either the hygienist or the patient. The end result is a clean mouth with most or all of the stain removed, and as much of the plaque and tartar removed as is possible.

The Cavitron ultrasonic is another debatable point. Most hygienists love it because of the quick tartar removal which would take much longer if hand instruments were used. The down side to this approach is that the tooth can be sensitive when the ultrasonic tip touches the tooth. Some patients prefer it, others don’t unless they are numb. The Cavitron is indispensable for a deep cleaning to get the caked on tartar to come off, which is then followed by hand instruments to smooth the surface.

And yes, we have all three of these at LohmannDental and the hygienist likes using all three for the correct occasion.