307 Grafton St #203, Shrewsbury, MA 01545

What Happens During A Dental Cleaning?

If you are long overdue for a dental checkup or cleaning, it’s only natural to feel a bit anxious about what your appointment will entail. “Will the cleaning hurt? Will the dentist know I haven’t been flossing? Am I going to have cavities in all my teeth?” Rather than jumping to conclusions, or living with your fears, it can be helpful to understand what goes on during a dental cleaning, so you can head to your visit relaxed, even excited to improve the look, and health, of your smile!

The Basics Behind a Cleaning

First, most dental cleanings can be completed in an hour or less with very little discomfort. Unless there are severe issues, a dental hygienist should be able to remove most of your plaque buildup in 30 minutes to an hour. You may also receive an X-ray, to check for cavities, and the dentist will likely check for signs of gum disease.

Most patients don’t need any form of pain relief for a standard cleaning, though you can ask your dentist about nitrous oxide, often called laughing gas, if you have severe anxiety about your visit.

Several tools are generally used during a cleaning, including tooth polishers and scalers. Scalers are used to clear plaque from between your teeth; these look like metal hooks. Polishers come with different sized heads to help remove tiny bits of plaque buildup, and to buff the teeth. Many dentists will also use a device to shoot water into your mouth, in order to help rinse out the plaque as it’s removed from your teeth.

What Else You Should Know

  • Keep in mind that if it has been a long time since your last dental cleaning, it make take longer than average to properly clean your teeth.
  • Your dentist will also let you know if there are any signs of gum disease, a condition that must be treated proactively to prevent it from progressing. Ultrasonic scaling may be necessary if there is severe plaque buildup.
  • Tips for proper at-home care will likely be given, as well, especially if there are signs you have not been brushing or flossing your teeth.
  • If you have a heart condition you should let your dentist know prior to a checkup, as many patients with heart conditions need to take medicine prior to a cleaning.
  • Cavities, gum disease, and other issues will most likely require a follow-up visit and additional treatment. Do not delay advised treatment, as this could only worsen your condition.


At Modern Dentistry, Todd A. Pizzi, DDS, and Luciana Messina, DDS, are dedicated to providing high-quality cosmetic, restorative, and preventive dentistry services to patients and families in Shrewsbury, Worcester, North and South Grafton, Westborough, Southborough, Northborough, Boylston, Hopkinton, Millbury, and all surrounding communities. To schedule your next appointment, contact our office by calling 508-842-6356 today.