Updated: Oct 15
Are you unsure about what to expect and how much time you should budget for the dental cleaning appointment? Is it going to take as long as a hair salon appointment or would you still have time to run other errands after your appointment?
How long does a teeth cleaning take?
A teeth cleaning can take as long as 30 minutes to an hour but it all depends on how much plaque and tartar you have. The appointment would take more time if you have a lot more plaque and tartar build up and likewise it would take less time if you have less plaque.
What our long island city dentists have noticed over the years is that there is a direct correlation between the amount of plaque and tartar build up on your teeth when compared to how frequently you get your teeth cleanings. Patients who come routinely for their 6 month dental check ups will have a shorter dental cleaning appointment as opposed to someone who comes in frequently.
The dental cleaning appointment length is directly correlated with the amount of tartar on your teeth. So, if you have a lot of plaque you should expect a longer appointment. If you have less plaque then you'll most likely have a shorter appointment.
What to expect during a dental cleaning
The cleaning appointment not only involves cleaning the teeth and polishing them but also the dental exam and any necessary x rays. The sequence of activities is usually as such:
Start with annual check up x rays. The dental x rays are taken once a year to not only check for cavities but also to monitor the bone levels around your teeth for possible periodontal disease. Periodontitis can be easily spotted on the radiographs due to bone loss around the teeth.
Oral examination. Your dentist will visually look in your mouth for cavities. They will also check for gum inflammation as well as possible signs of oral cancer.
Plaque and tartar removal with an ultrasonic instrument. Your dentist or dental hygienist will begin the plaque removal process with an ultrasonic instrument that vibrates at 32,000 movements per second to break up the hard tartar. The instrument will also flush out any plaque that is attached to your teeth.
Hand scaling to finely remove any residual tartar. This step is when you double check to see if there were any left over plaque or tartar still on your teeth with a sharp metal instrument. When we clean off tartar with this tool, we call it scaling the teeth. The hand instrument gives us a better tactile sensation for feeling left behind tartar.
Polishing the teeth. The polishing step involves a soft brush with a fluoride prophy paste, which is equivalent to a fluoride toothpaste. If you prefer to be fluoride free, you can politely decline this step.
Rinsing with a mouthwash. The last step is to rinse everything off with a mouth rinse. The rinse can be listerine or chlorinated water. Afterwards your mouth should be feeling minty fresh.
That is typically what a regular teeth cleaning appointment should entail but there are situations where it can take a lot longer and that is if you haven't been to the dentist in awhile.
When would a teeth cleaning take longer?
You should expect the teeth cleaning to take a lot longer if you haven't been to the dentist in over 2-3 years because you most likely have significantly more plaque and tartar build up. The more tartar you have, the more time it would require for your dentist to completely remove all of it.
From the video above, you can see a lot of tartar build up as compared to the second photo in this blog post. The appointment will take longer when there is more to clean, makes sense doesn't it?
In addition to having more to clean, severe tartar build up may also warrant a deep teeth cleaning, which is when you have to scale and root plane below the gum line. This additional step will add extra time to the appointment length. Our LIC dentists usually recommend to do the deep cleaning in two appointments rather than one and that is for your comfort.
Do teeth cleanings hurt?
Dental cleanings shouldn't hurt if you go regularly for them every six months because there will be less to clean and you'll also be less sensitive to the vibrations from the ultrasonic scaler.
Less to clean. If there is a lot less plaque and tartar to remove, your dentist won't have to scrape as hard. The amount of scraping will also be less. It just makes it a more pleasant experience overall.
Less sensitivity to the ultrasonic vibrations. Patients who are not use to getting their teeth clean will feel a lot more sensitivity to the vibrations. Patients who come routinely, tell us that the dental cleaning feels more like a massage.
How often should you get a dental cleaning and why are they important?
Our recommendations are to get a teeth cleaning twice a year or every 6 months because if you do get cavities or start developing gingivitis, we can catch it early and treat it. The longer you wait in between dental check ups, the more things that can go wrong such as letting a small cavity grow into a big one. It is better to catch them early so that you only need a small cavity filling and not a root canal.
Aside from that, most dental insurances will cover teeth cleanings twice a year at 100% so you might as well use the benefits that you are paying for! For this reason alone, our dentists in long island city believe that it is well worth your time to get a cleaning twice a year. You should get your money's worth.