People should visit the dentist every six months for preventative care, according to the Nemours hospital network Teens Health website 2. These twice-yearly visits typically include an examination of the teeth and mouth, X-rays and a cleaning. Teeth can get plaque build-up even in individuals who brush them after every meal. The cleaning gets rid of this debris. Most patients do not have major discomfort during dental cleanings, but some experience tooth pain afterward.
The term "dental cleaning" can mean different things. It usually means routine scaling and polishing of the teeth to remove plaque build-up, but the Dental Fear Central website explains that it can also refer to a process called deep planing 1. This procedure is more likely to cause tooth pain because it is more in-depth.
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Root planing involves smoothing the root surfaces and taking out any infected areas, according to Dental Fear Central 1. This process is necessary in people with gum disease who develop deep pockets around their teeth. The pockets collect tartar deposits that have to be removed. The deep cleaning may be uncomfortable, but it is necessary to get rid of potentially harmful bacteria.
- Root planing involves smoothing the root surfaces and taking out any infected areas, according to Dental Fear Central 1.
A dental cleaning is usually painless 1. Dental Fear Central explains that patients feel the tools scraping against their teeth, but it is not usually an unpleasant sensation. People with sensitive teeth may feel some tooth pain during a deep dental cleaning. Their gums may also hurt, depending on the depth of the pockets they have developed.
- A dental cleaning is usually painless 1.
- Dental Fear Central explains that patients feel the tools scraping against their teeth, but it is not usually an unpleasant sensation.
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People who are especially sensitive or who have severe gum disease can prevent pain by asking for anesthetic, Dental Fear Central advises. The dentist can inject a numbing drug to eliminate both tooth and gum pain. Some dentists offer topical anesthetics as an alternative, but they only stop gum pain. The teeth will still feel sensations because the numbing agent does not have a deep enough reach.
- People who are especially sensitive or who have severe gum disease can prevent pain by asking for anesthetic, Dental Fear Central advises.
- Some dentists offer topical anesthetics as an alternative, but they only stop gum pain.
Tooth pain from a dental cleaning is usually limited to the time frame of the cleaning itself. However, Dental Fear Central warns that tooth sensitivity and bleeding may last for a while afterward. Hot or cold temperatures will cause tooth pain until the effect wears off, and the gums may also be sore. Ibuprofen or other over-the-counter pain killers are usually sufficient to manage the discomfort, but the dentist can prescribe stronger medications if needed.
- Tooth pain from a dental cleaning is usually limited to the time frame of the cleaning itself.
- Hot or cold temperatures will cause tooth pain until the effect wears off, and the gums may also be sore.
Teens Health warns that ongoing tooth pain or sensitivity may signal an underlying problem. Patients should mention pain during a cleaning to the dentist, especially if it has never happened before. It could indicate a cavity or an irritated or inflamed nerve.
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Dental Terminology Abbreviations
- Dental Fear Central: What Is Deep Cleaning (Deep Scaling and Root Planing)?
- Teens Health: Taking Care of Your Teeth
- ADA Center for Evidence-Based Dentistry. Clinical practice guidelines.
- Sen B, Blackburn J, Morrisey MA, et al. Effectiveness of preventive dental visits in reducing nonpreventive dental visits and expenditures. Pediatrics. 2013;131(6):1107-13. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-2586
- Bader J. Insufficient evidence to understand effect of routine scaling and polishing. Evidence-Based Dentistry. 2005;6(1):5-6. doi:10.1038/sj.ebd.6400317.
- Olson LB, Turner DJ, Cox GM, Hostler CJ. Prosthetic joint infection following dental cleaning despite antibiotic prophylaxis. Case Rep Infect Dis. 2019;2019:8109280. doi:10.1155/2019/8109280
- American Dental Association. Antibiotic prophylaxis prior to dental procedures.
- Weintraub JA, Stearns SC, Rozier RG, Huang CC. Treatment outcomes and costs of dental sealants among children enrolled in Medicaid. Am J Public Health. 2001;91(11):1877-81. doi:10.2105/ajph.91.11.1877
- US Preventive Services Task Force. Dental caries in children from birth through age 5 years: Screening. Updated September 29, 2014.
- Sambunjak D, Nickerson JW, Poklepovic T, et al. Flossing for the management of periodontal diseases and dental caries in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. December 2011. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd008829.pub2
- Walsh T, Worthington HV, Glenny A-M, Marinho VC, Jeroncic A. Fluoride toothpastes of different concentrations for preventing dental caries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. April 2019. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd007868.pub3
- American Dental Association. Dental Radiographic Examinations: Recommendations for Patient Selection and Limiting Radiation Exposure. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- Bader, J. (2005). Insufficient Evidence to Understand Effect of Routine Scaling and Polishing. Nature.com.
- Christal, A. Dental Prophylaxis. The Edmonds Orthopedic Center.
- Cochrane. Drug treatments for Constipation Caused by Antipsychotic Medications.
- Gelber, S. (2016). Surprisingly Little Evidence for the Accepted Wisdom About Teeth. The New York Times.
- Sen, B., Blackburn, J., Morrisey, M.A., Kilgore, M.L... Menachemi, N. (2013). Effectiveness of Preventive Dental Visits in Reducing Nonpreventive Dental Visits and Expenditures. AAP News and Journals Gateway.
- The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force Staff. Final Recommendation Statement Dental Caries in Children from Birth Through Age 5 Years: Screening.
Based in Kissimmee, Fla., Barb Nefer is a freelance writer with over 20 years of experience. She is a mental health counselor, finance coach and travel agency owner. Her work has appeared in such magazines as "The Writer" and "Grit" and she authored the book, "So You Want to Be a Counselor."