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Does it hurt to get your teeth cleaned? Getting teeth cleaning done by a professional is the most effective way to eliminate accumulated plaque and tartar. Dentists and dental hygienists are best equipped to care for those hard to reach and often sensitive spaces. 

You run the risk of getting gum disease or other health conditions without regular cleanings. Research shows links between oral disease and diabetes, heart disease, stroke, respiratory illness, and other health risks.

But will your cleaning hurt? Well, that depends on a few factors. Keep reading to find out what occurs during a dental cleaning, the likelihood of experiencing pain, and how to prevent dental cleaning pain.

What Happens at a Dental Cleaning Appointment?

Teeth cleanings are often completed by a dental hygienist. They will first examine your mouth with a small mirror and check for any signs of gingivitis (inflamed gums) or other potential issues. If the dental hygienist notices any problems, a dentist may come to look at your teeth at any point during the cleaning.

During the cleaning, your hygienist will use a small, metal scaler to scrape tartar off your teeth, both above and below the gum line. They may also use an ultrasonic vibrating device to loosen up tartar and plaque. Once your teeth are free of tartar, the hygienist will brush them using a high-powered electric toothbrush.

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The toothpaste has a gritty consistency and you can sometimes choose a flavor. After a thorough brushing, they will floss your teeth to remove any leftover plaque or toothpaste. This may be a bit more intense than your flossing sessions at home. Next, you will rinse out your mouth. The rinse usually contains liquid fluoride. 

Finally, your hygienist will apply a fluoride treatment. This comes in the form of a sticky paste or a foamy gel. It usually stays on for around one minute. The treatment protects your teeth and fights against cavities for a few months. 

Following a teeth cleaning, your teeth not only feel smooth, but the shiny surface makes it more challenging for plaque to build up. We suggest scheduling your next dental cleaning before you leave your dentist’s office to ensure you stick to the suggested time frame.

But is a Dental Cleaning Painful?

If you go to a professional regularly for teeth cleanings and you have no oral issues, your visit will probably not hurt. If you’ve skipped a few cleanings, then you’re likely experiencing some discomfort even when you brush at home. So yes, in this case, your cleaning could be painful.

Some symptoms that would hint toward discomfort in an upcoming appointment could include inflammation in your gums, tooth decay, or sensitivity. If this is the case, then part of your dental cleaning may be painful but these are all key signs you need a cleaning, as soon as possible. Why might your cleaning cause discomfort? Scraping off tartar below your gum line can hurt tender gums and it isn’t pleasant to have a tooth with decay get brushed with a high-powered toothbrush.

While everyone experiences pain on a different scale, we’re not talking about major discomfort. And the pain you may experience during your cleaning is temporary. If you avoid professional teeth cleanings you’re going to experience severe pain in the future because plaque and tartar buildup can cause serious issues. 

Severe gum disease turns into periodontal disease and the inflammation from periodontal disease can spread through your body. The swelling can negatively impact other health conditions. Knowing the warning signs of gum disease can help you determine the urgency of your next dental appointment.

Gum disease symptoms may include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Red, swollen, or tender gums
  • Bleeding gums when eating, brushing, or flossing
  • Loose or separating teeth
  • Gums pulling away from teeth
  • Persistent bad taste in your mouth
  • A change in your bite

Even without experiencing any gum disease symptoms, if it has been six months or more since your last dental visit, it’s crucial to have a dental checkup and cleaning. If you’re worried your cleaning will hurt, there are ways to make potentially painful teeth cleanings hurt less.

hurts to clean teeth

How to Make Teeth Cleanings Less Painful

The best way to avoid having teeth cleanings hurt is by keeping up with your dental care, both at home and through professional cleanings. At home, brush your teeth at least twice a day. You don’t need to brush aggressively. It’s fine to be gentle but take the time to clean all of your teeth thoroughly. Your tooth enamel is temporarily weakened after a meal or drinking acidic beverages (like tea or coffee). You can rinse your mouth with water directly following a meal, but wait a bit before brushing your teeth.

An electric toothbrush will clean your teeth better than a standard toothbrush. Hold your toothbrush at an angle for more effective cleaning. Select a toothpaste with fluoride to help prevent tooth decay. Fluoride lowers your mouth’s acid level, strengthens tooth enamel, and protects your teeth from sensitivity. Several countries, including Canada and the United States, put small amounts of fluoride in drinking water for oral health. If you only drink bottled or well water, you aren’t getting this extra dose of fluoride. You can also get fluoride from varnishes, certain mouth rinses, and gels.

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If your teeth already feel sensitive, you might want to switch the toothpaste you’re using. Changing to a desensitizing toothpaste containing potassium nitrite can minimize root sensitivity. It may take a few weeks to notice the difference.

Flossing every day is also necessary. Flossing is responsible for up to 40% of plaque removal when cleaning your teeth. If you’re skipping the floss, think of how much plaque you’re leaving behind. Each tooth has five surfaces, and when you skip flossing, you aren’t cleaning two of those surfaces. The top method for flossing is to use a piece of floss that is between 15 and 18 inches long and to wrap it around each tooth in a C shape — don’t just go straight up and down.

If you’re not flossing regularly, it might hurt when a dental hygienist does it. The first few times you floss, your gums may hurt or even bleed. Once your gums are stronger, this will stop happening. 

best way to floss if tooth cleaning hurts

Does it hurt to clean your teeth? You still need dental checkups and teeth cleanings done by a professional even if your at-home routine is excellent. If you have an appointment coming up and worry about pain because you haven’t been keeping your teeth as clean as you wish you would have, there are strategies to help reduce pain during your appointment.

About an hour before your visit, consider taking Advil or another type of ibuprofen. Some people also choose to take some following their appointment. Just make sure never to exceed dosage limits within too short of a timeframe. If you’ve never taken ibuprofen, first consult with a doctor to make sure you aren’t prone to bleeding issues. You can also call in advance to see if your hygienist is willing to use a local anesthetic, such as Carbocaine or Mepivacaine, to block out the pain. Nitrous oxide is sometimes also an option.

If the hygienist turns down this request, they may still be willing to numb your gum tissue with a topical anesthesia. Alternatively, your doctor might consider prescribing you a short-acting anti-anxiety medication. If this happens, make sure to mention it to your dental hygienist so the medication doesn’t interfere with any procedures. 

Try to make your teeth cleaning as calm as possible by not booking it during peak hours. Opt for the first appointment of the day or during a slow part of the afternoon when dental offices are quieter. Ask if you can listen to music or a distracting podcast through your headphones. Some dentist offices even have TVs so you can watch a show or movie. If you’re nervous, the less you concentrate on what’s happening in your mouth, the better.

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With your mouth wide open, it can be challenging to communicate your needs to the dental hygienist. Therefore, before the cleaning begins, you should come up with a signal to let your dentist know you’re uncomfortable or need a break. The signal can be as simple as raising your hand. It’s fine to take a small break in the middle of the cleaning if it’s painful and you want to take a few deep breaths.

Perhaps one of the most important strategies for minimizing pain during teeth cleanings is to choose your hygienist carefully. Some may be a bit too rough on your teeth and gums, whereas others can clean your teeth gently, yet thoroughly. You want a professional who is understanding of any dental anxiety you have. The more knowledgeable your hygienist is, the better they can explain how to prevent oral pain in the future.

There are several steps included in a dental cleaning appointment. If you see a dentist regularly and maintain high standards for your oral health at home, your cleaning will likely not be painful. However, if it’s been a significant amount of time since your last dental appointment, or if you currently have any oral problems, it may be painful. 

Dentist offices are prepared for nervous patients and questions about pain. Mention your concerns when you book. If you are uncomfortable during the cleaning, communicate your discomfort to your dentist or dental hygienist. Try techniques to keep yourself calm. 

While there might be a few “ouch” moments, remember there are no extreme procedures involved with cleaning. And the more you stick to routine cleanings, the easier they get, and the better chance you have of preventing more pain down the road. Professional dental cleanings are essential for your health, so no matter how long it has been, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment. You can handle it, we know it! 

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