What is Tooth Polishing?

One of the last steps your hygienist takes before she’s finished is to polish. She rubs a minty-flavored sand-like paste over your teeth to smooth out the overall tooth surface, making it harder for soft biofilm to stick to teeth.


It’s important to note that this procedure does not remove endogenous stains or bacterial plaque biofilm, which cause gum disease and tooth decay. It only works on extrinsic stains, like those caused by smoking or certain antimicrobial rinses.

It removes stains

Tooth polishing is a procedure that removes the soft biofilm (also called plaque) and pellicle, which contain bacteria that cling to tooth surfaces. This helps prevent gum disease, which can lead to tooth and bone loss. It also ensures that teeth are cleaner and brighter. It is performed during regular cleanings and is usually painless. Occasionally, it may cause tooth sensitivity in patients with thin enamel or existing sensitivity, but this typically subsides within a few days.

Dental hygienists use a variety of abrasive powders and polishing pastes during the process. The choice depends on the type of stain and the patient’s risk for sensitivity. Typically, the hygienist will select a polishing paste with fine, coarse, or medium grit. The polishing paste is then deposited on the tooth surface using a rubber cup, and it’s buffed with a rotating hand piece or prophy-angle.

The most common stains are extrinsic, which occur on the external surface of teeth. They are generally caused by smoking, betel nut chewing, and some foods and beverages like coffee, tea, and red wine. Extrinsic stains can be removed by powered and manual instrumentation, as well as improved oral self-care. Other types of stains, such as brown and black stains, are not removable with polishing. These stains have different etiologies, including developmental and drug-induced stains.

It protects your teeth

Tooth polishing is an important part of professional teeth cleanings and helps your oral health. It removes light surface stains that can’t be removed by regular brushing and helps prevent dental issues like gum disease and harmful oral bacteria overgrowth.

During tooth polishing, the dental hygienist uses a rubber cup or prophy paste to remove the accumulated debris from your teeth. Most of these products are flavored to make the procedure more enjoyable. Mint is the most common flavor but some offices also offer berry, orange, and bubble gum. Some dental professionals may also use an air-polishing system, which is a jet of water and pressurized air with an abrasive additive. This method can cause damage to the tooth enamel, if not performed properly.

Although polishing can help prevent certain dental conditions, it is not a necessary treatment. If your teeth are sensitive or have other dental conditions, it’s a good idea to speak with your dentist before getting your teeth polished. Tooth polishing can also damage the surfaces of restorations like crowns or bridges.

Any dental procedure can have negative side effects if not done correctly. Scaling, for example, can be overdone and cause damage to the tooth enamel and gums. Though enamel does grow back, it’s a good idea to consider other options if you have sensitive teeth or gum problems.

It removes biofilm

The microbial homeostasis of the oral cavity is important to healthy teeth and gums. The primary etiology of gingival disease is plaque biofilm and its disruption and removal is an integral part of nonsurgical periodontal debridement. The goal of professional removal is to prevent progression of the inflammatory process by removing the biofilm and its staining components. Rubber cup polishing has traditionally been used to disrupt the plaque and reduce stains, but new products now offer a minimally invasive way to accomplish this task.

Air polishing or Guided Biofilm Therapy uses pressurized air, water, and a fine powder called erythritol to safely remove the biofilm above and 4mm below the gum line. It can be safely used around baby teeth, any restorative work, implants, braces, the tongue, and palate. It also eliminates the slimy sticky biofilm that clings to the tooth surface, so hygienists can focus on removing hard deposits with an ultrasonic cleaner or hand instruments.

A hygienist should only use air polishing when there is a justified therapeutic reason. Extrinsic stains, which are caused by foods and drinks like tea, coffee, red wine and betel quid chewing and medications such as chlorhexidine can be removed with polishing. Intrinsic stains, which occurred during development or have an unknown etiology, cannot be removed with polishing. However, reducing sugar intake by switching to xylitol gum can significantly reduce the amount of chromogenic bacteria that can cause these stains.

It’s a cosmetic procedure

Dental polishing removes surface stains on teeth to make them appear shiny and whiter. It also helps to prevent bacterial plaque biofilms and extrinsic stains. This procedure is a component of preventive dental care, which includes regular cleaning appointments and whitening treatments.

Tooth polishing can cause abrasion to tooth enamel, but the dentist can control the amount of pressure used during the procedure. Dental hygienists typically use small rubber cups and polishing paste in fine, medium, or coarse abrasion to achieve the desired results. Some dentists may also use a wand that sprays out water and powder mixed together. The powder is usually flavored, such as mint, berry, or orange.

The abrasiveness of the tooth polishing agent is important to control, as it should be less than the hardness of the teeth. Moreover, the polishing agent should have a lower particle size than the hardness of the teeth to prevent excessive damage. Dental hygienists should carefully select the polishing material for each patient, as different types of stains require a variety of polishing techniques.

Extrinsic stains can be green, brown, or black and are caused by various dietary and environmental factors, including tobacco smoking and chewing, betel quid chewing, coffee and red wine drinking, and chlorhexidine mouth rinses. These stains can be removed with prophylactic polishing, but they cannot remove intrinsic staining, which occurs during the formation of teeth.