Plaque is SOFT and should be removed DAILY. It is easy to remove with a SOFT toothbrush (provided by SmileSolutions during your Diagnostic examination). If plaque is left on the teeth, calcium deposits from saliva will start the formulation of calculus, tartar. This is hard substance which can only be removed by a professional oral hygienist or dentist.

Dental cleanings involve removing plaque (soft, sticky, bacteria infested film) and tartar (calculus) deposits that have built up on the teeth over time. Your teeth are continually bathed in saliva which contains calcium and other substances which help strengthen and protect the teeth. While this is a good thing, it also means that we tend to get a buildup of calcium deposits on the teeth. This chalky substance will eventually build up over time, like limescale in a pipe or kettle. Usually it is tooth coloured and can easily be mistaken as part of the teeth, but it also can vary from brown to black in colour.

If the scale, or calculus (tartar, as dentists like to call it) is allowed to accumulate on the teeth it will unfortunately provide the right conditions for bacteria to thrive next to the gums. The purpose of the cleaning and polishing is basically to leave the surfaces of the teeth clean and smooth so that bacteria are unable to stick to them and you have a better chance of keeping the teeth clean during your regular home care.

The professional cleaning of teeth is also referred to as prophylaxis.

We strongly recommend our patients to visit SmileSolutions every 3 months for an Oral Hygiene appointment and maintaining good oral health. The 3 monthly appointments will be charged at Discovery medical aid rates.

Should the patient require deeper cleaning (Deep clean using the Waterlase) a cost estimate will be done and explained to the patient. Deep Cleaning is usually recommended if a patient has serious gum problems and bone loss is present.

How are dental cleanings done?

The dentist uses specialized instruments to gently remove these deposits without harming the teeth. The instruments which may be used during your cleaning, and what they feel like, are described below.

  1. Ultrasonic instruments – for the removal of hard substances calculus / tartar.
  2. Fine hand instruments – to refine cleaning.
  3. Polishing – done with polishing paste and small rotating brushes.
  4. Fluoride – applied to strengthen weakened areas. Excess fluoride spit out and do not swallow.

Ultrasonic instrument

Commonly used first is an ultrasonic instrument which uses tickling vibrations to knock larger pieces of tartar loose. It also sprays a cooling mist of water while it works to wash away debris and keep the area at a proper temperature. The device typically emits a humming or high pitched whistling sound. This may seem louder than it actually is because the sound may get amplified inside your head, just like when you put an electric toothbrush into your mouth.

The ultrasonic instrument tips are curved and rounded and are always kept in motion around the teeth. They are by no means sharp since their purpose is to knock tartar loose and not to cut into the teeth. It is best to inform the operator if the sensations are too strong or ticklish so that they can adjust the setting appropriately on the device or modify the pressure applied.

With larger deposits that have hardened on, it can take some time to remove these, just like trying to remove baked-on grime on a stove that has been left over a long time. So your cleaning may take longer than future cleanings. Imagine not cleaning a house for six months versus cleaning it every week. The six-month job is going to take longer than doing smaller weekly jobs.

Fine hand tools

Once the larger pieces of tartar are gone, the Dentist will switch to finer hand tools (called scalers and curettes in dental-speak) to remove smaller deposits and smoothen the tooth surfaces. These tools are curved and shaped to match the curves of the teeth. They allow smaller tartar deposits to be removed by carefully scraping them off with a gentle to moderate amount of pressure. Just like taking a scrubbing brush to a soiled pot, the dentist has to get the areas clean and smooth.


Once all the surfaces are smooth, the dentist may polish your teeth. Polishing is done using a slow speed handpiece with a soft rubber cup that spins on the end. Prophylaxis paste – a special gritty toothpaste-like material – is scooped up into the cup and spun around on the teeth to make them smooth.


Your dentist may also apply fluoride. This is the final part of the dental cleaning! Make no mistake though, this in-office fluoride treatment is meant for topical use only on the surfaces of the teeth and should not be swallowed.

Afterwards the fluoride application the patient is directed to spit as much out as possible. The fluoride helps to strengthen the teeth since the acids from bacteria in dental tartar and plaque will have weakened the surfaces. It is best not to eat, drink or rinse for 30 minutes after the fluoride has been applied.

Is it going to be painful?

Normally – NO. Should your oral hygiene not be of good quality this might be painful. Painful oral hygiene sessions are prevented by doing the following:

  1. Brushing correctly twice every day for minimum 2 minutes.
  2. Flossing daily.
  3. Three monthly visits to your dentist to keep you on the straight and narrow.
  4. By administrating local anaesthetic.

Most people find that cleanings are painless, and find the sensations described above – tickling vibrations, the cooling mist of water, and the feeling of pressure during “scraping” – do not cause discomfort. A lot of people even report that they enjoy cleanings and the lovely smooth feel of their teeth afterwards! There may be odd zingy sensations, but many people don’t mind as they only last a nanosecond.

Be sure to let your dentist know if you find things are getting too uncomfortable for your liking. They can recommend various options to make the cleaning more enjoyable.

Painful cleaning experiences can be caused by a number of things: a rough dentist, exposed dentine (not dangerous, but can make cleanings unpleasant), or sore gum tissues.

In case you may have had painful cleaning experiences in the past, switching to a gentle dentist can often make all the difference. You could also choose to be numbed. If you find the scaling a bit uncomfortable because the gum tissues (rather than the teeth themselves) are sensitive, topical numbing gels can be used.

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