What is Tooth Polishing?

Tooth polishing is one of the standard dental procedures that patients have come to expect during their regular cleaning. It helps to remove surface stains, as well as make the teeth look brighter and smoother.


This is a common procedure that can be done with either manual or engine driven polishers using rubber cups called prophy cups. The abrasive particles used in the polishing paste can cause allergic reactions in individuals with respiratory problems or hypertension.

It Removes Plaque

During regular dental cleanings, the hygienist removes hardened plaque and tartar with specialized instruments. After that, the hygienist polishes the teeth to leave them shiny and smooth. The hygienist uses a rubber cup filled with fine prophylaxis paste or a water-air jet in combination with glycerin or sodium carbonate to scrub the surface of your teeth. This makes your teeth look smooth and clean and also helps to remove any stains that the scaling procedure missed.

In fact, one of the most common reasons for patients to visit their dentists is to get their teeth polished. This is because of the tangible benefits that they see and feel as a result of this preventive service.

Tooth polishing is a form of debridement that does not cause any pain and is less invasive than using scalers. It is also much more comfortable for the patient to undergo this procedure, making it easier to maintain oral hygiene. The process is also safer and produces fewer contaminated aerosols than power-driven or air-driven scalers do.

However, it is important to note that tooth polishing only removes extrinsic stains and cannot eliminate the internal or endogenous stains. These stains are caused by smoking, betel quid chewing and some beverages such as tea, coffee and wine. They can also be caused by dental defects like developmental or drug-induced enamel hypoplasia.

It Removes Stains

In addition to removing plaque, tooth polishing also removes surface stains. These stains can be caused by food, drinks, smoking, and more. The hygienist will rub the teeth with a mildly abrasive toothpaste to remove these stains from the outer layer of the tooth. This makes the teeth look brighter and smoother.

Dental stains are formed by dark colored compounds that are accumulated in the tooth (intrinsic) or on the surface of the tooth (extrinsic). They can be lightened by bleaching.

Coronal polishing uses superfine abrasive agents to make the enamel surface of the tooth lustrous. This has no curative value but improves the appearance of the tooth. It is usually done after scaling and oral debridement.

A typical traditional polishing system is a rubber cup attached to a hand piece or prophy-angle, with straight or contra-angled shanks. Depending on the brand, the polishing paste is either dry or wet. The abrasive particles used in polishing can be pumice, diamond, zirconium silicate, and more. Some polishing systems emit vibrations that may cause discomfort for patients with sensitive teeth and/or gums. Others use a Prophy-Jet, which is quieter and less stressful for patients and hygienists.

While dietary and lifestyle changes have dramatically altered the factors that contribute to dental stain accumulation, tooth polishing is still a standard procedure in most prophylaxis protocols. Hygienists should be well versed in the causes of stains and their removal, as well as appropriate polishing options for different patient types.

It Makes Your Teeth Look Brighter

While tooth polishing isn’t a necessary dental procedure, it does make teeth look brighter and may encourage patients to stick with good oral hygiene habits. However, it’s important to discuss this treatment with your dentist before having it done, especially if you have any underlying oral issues that need to be addressed. These include sensitivity, exposed dentin or roots, gum disease, and exposed cementum. These issues need to be treated before having the abrasive prophy paste applied.

When bacterial plaque remains on teeth, it hardens to form a tough, mineral substance called tartar. Tartar is a significant cause of gum disease, tooth decay, and other dental problems. During your regular cleaning, the hygienist will remove tartar using special tools and then polish the remaining surfaces of the teeth with prophy paste to help prevent plaque and stain re-adhering.

The abrasive particles used in a tooth polishing paste can cause scratches on the surface of the teeth, and it is important that the process is performed with the correct technique to minimize these effects. Moreover, the type of prophy paste may influence the final results. For example, calcium carbonate (chalk) is less abrasive than pumice and produces minimal scratches while also producing a highly reflective surface. Other options for the abrasive agents used in tooth polishing include aluminum silicate, sand, and zirconium oxide.

It Makes Your Teeth Feel Smoother

Teeth polishing is typically one of the last steps in a dental cleaning appointment, after your hygienist scales away loose plaque and calcified tartar. It is usually a quick and painless process, and many patients like the feeling of their teeth being extra smooth after it is done.

Besides making your teeth look brighter, tooth polishing also helps to eliminate light surface stains that aren’t easily removed with regular brushing. Teeth polishing uses an abrasive material, such as pumice, calcium carbonate, silica or zirconium dioxide, to remove minor stains and make your teeth feel more polished and clean.

In addition to removing stains, tooth polishing can help reduce gum disease by reducing the bacteria count in your mouth. Built up plaque provides a food source for bacteria, which can lead to gum disease and bad breath. When your hygienist polishes your teeth, it removes this bacteria and makes your gums healthier.

Teeth polishing is a simple but important preventive procedure, and it is an integral part of a good oral health regimen that includes regular dental cleanings and checkups. When performed by a trained professional at a full-service dental clinic, tooth polishing can improve your oral health and keep your smile looking great! So be sure to schedule your next dental appointment today.