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Many patients understandably confuse the “Teeth Cleaning” with “Teeth Whitening”. As two similar but very different dental procedures, their biggest difference stems from their purpose. The primary goal of teeth cleaning is to remove plaque and tartar from the surface of the teeth in order to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

The purpose behind teeth whitening is to remove stains for cosmetic reasons. Teeth whitening make a smile sparkle while teeth cleaning assures the continued health of your teeth and gums.

​Professional Teeth Cleanings

The American Dental Association recommends a thorough and professional cleaning every 6 months, though some patients prone to decay or have a history of gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) may need more frequent deep cleanings.

​Different Types of Teeth Cleaning


  • Prophylaxis is the most common teeth cleaning procedure. Most patients undergo this type of cleaning every 6 months or so at a dental clinic You can expect your dentist to use a series of scrapers and picks to remove tartar and plaque from your teeth during your next prophylaxis appointment. Plaque forms from sugar and simple carbs on the surface of your teeth—it is the sticky substance that you regularly fight off with your toothbrush. What makes plaque dangerous is the acid secreted as a result of its formation. Tartar forms over time on the surface of the teeth from plaque.
  • Once your hygienist has finished scraping the tartar from your teeth, he or she will typically begin polishing your teeth. Although some people cringe at the gritty feeling of having their teeth polished, a polishing tool is generally made from a rubberized yet firm material that spins in a circle to polish teeth.
  • You should not expect to feel any pain during your next prophylaxis appointment, unless you suffer from gingivitis. Depending on how long ago your last cleaning was and the amount of tartar accumulated on your teeth, you can expect a typical prophylaxis appointment to last 30-60 minutes.

Root Scaling and Planing

  • Also called “Deep” cleaning or “Advanced” cleaning, root scaling and planing is a dental procedure often recommended for patients who are showing signs of gum disease. Most often recognized by swollen, bleeding gums, gum disease is a gum infection that causes swelling, soreness, and the formation of pockets between the gums and teeth. Without frequent teeth cleanings, your mouth is at risk for gum disease because gum disease is caused by plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth.
  • Similar to prophylaxis, the major difference between a “deep” clean is the tool your dentist will use to scrape the gumline. Don’t worry about the pain— local anesthesia is used during root scaling and planing. If your gum disease has progressed beyond what one appointment can fix, your dentist may recommend you return for further cleaning, focusing on one area of the mouth per visit.

Once the anesthesia wears off, gums are likely to be sore and sensitive following your root scaling procedure. Pain will subside, however, with correct brushing, flossing, and mouthwash use.

If you need root scaling in place of prophylaxis, look for these signs:

  • Red, swollen, and sore gums
  • Bleeding gums whenever you brush or floss
  • Teeth feeling loose in your jaw
  • Visible pockets forming between your gums and teeth
  • Chronic bad breath does not disappear with brushing, flossing, mouthwash, or breath mints.

​Why You Need Frequent Teeth Cleanings

After a teeth cleaning, your dentist removes plaque and tartar that has a yellow tint to it, resulting in an instantly whiter smile. However, a white smile is not the goal of a teeth cleaning as much as a healthysmile is.

Prophylaxis (and deep cleanings when needed) seek to:

  • ​Prevent tooth decay (a result of plaque and tartar buildup)
  • Stop and relieve gum disease
  • Get rid of chronic bad breath
  • Detect serious dental issues like decay, oral cancer, and other oral health concerns. Your Platinum Dental hygienist will search for clear risk factors.

​Teeth Whitening Facts

Teeth Whitening includes several different approaches all with the singular goal of creating a whiter, brighter smile. Dentists can remove stains caused by coffee, red wine, smoking, and mere exposure to food and plaque over a lifetime. There is no health benefit to teeth whitening per say, although there are visible effects on patients’ confidence and self-esteem.

Stains on the surface of your teeth do not indicate health problems within, as long as they are kept free from plaque and tartar.

In most cases, a teeth cleaning ought to precede a teeth whitening procedure. Teeth whitening will be more effective on a clean, tartar and plaque-free smile.

​Teeth Whitening Options

Depending on the speed and degree of whiteness you wish to achieve, there are several type of teeth whitening treatments, some of which are performed at home and others that can only be administered by a dentist. You can rest assured that teeth whitening is generally safe. You may experience increased sensitivity however if you have a history of weak enamel.

Before you undergo a professional whitening treatment, professional dentists first evaluate the condition of your teeth to make sure you are a good candidate for the procedure. Before you purchase over-the-counter whitening strips and trays, call to check with your dentist before you begin using these products.

Before you decide which whitening procedure you wish to pursue, here are the options you should consider:

  1. ​Over-The-Counter Whitening Strips and Trays
    • Any brand of whitening strips or trays found over-the-counter at a pharmacy can be trusted. Look for hydrogen peroxide as the active ingredient, and know that they contain a lower concentration of peroxide than the professional whitening products that your dentist will use. A lower concentration means slower yet safer results.If you have no deep-set stains and simply wish to whiten your smile by a few shades, over-the-counter whitening products are a good choice for you.

  1. ​Professional Laser Bleaching
    • If you would rather go to a salon than dye your hair at home, in-office laser whitening is the procedure for you. Your dentist can whiten serious dental staining or yellow teeth in an instant.
    • Here’s what you can expect: To begin, a bleaching agent will be applied to your teeth. Your whitening specialist will use a special laser to aim at your teeth to activate the bleaching product. You will see dramatic results in as quickly as one appointment. If you have deep-seeded, age-old stains or need very dramatic results (like the week of your wedding), your dentist may re-apply the bleach and activate it with the laser several times during one session.

​ Goals and Benefits of Teeth Whitening

With a whiter, brighter smile as a result of teeth whitening, you can also expect boosted self confidence and greater motivation to take care of your teeth. You may also find yourself trying harder to keep your teeth clean and avoid foods that stain (think coffee and wine), which will help your whitening results last for many years.

You know teeth whitening is a good idea if you find yourself…

  • ​Embarrassed to smile because of yellow or stain teeth
  • Using whitening toothpastes and rinses with no noticeable results
  • Preparing for a special occasion (think wedding or graduation) approaching, and you want to look your very best

​Conclusion: Cleaning and Whitening

Teeth cleaning is a procedure essential to your dental health while teeth whitening is an elective cosmetic procedure designed to improve the appearance of your smile.


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