Teeth Cleaning: What to Expect

Professional teeth cleaning at a dental office is an important way of maintaining your oral health. Usually done by a dental hygienist, a teeth cleaning session helps remove plaque from your teeth in order to prevent gum disease and cavities. At your checkup, your dentist will also be able to spot any signs of tooth decay and other oral health conditions. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you visit your dentist at least once a year for a dental checkup and professional cleaning with a dental hygienist. The American Dental Association (ADA) also recommends that you get your teeth professionally cleaned once or twice a year. 

Here’s what to expect at your next teeth cleaning appointment, including the examination, plaque removal, professional brushing and flossing, and fluoride treatment.

Dental hygienist cleaning a woman's teeth in dental procedure room

skynesher / Getty Images


At your dental office, you’ll lie back in a comfortable chair to have your teeth examined and cleaned.

Before cleaning your teeth, your dental hygienist will start by examining your gums, teeth, and mouth with a small mirror. If they notice any symptoms of underlying oral health problems, they might let your dentist know whether they should proceed with your cleaning session.

At the end of your cleaning, your dentist will typically be called in to examine your teeth and gums, looking for signs of current or potential oral problems. Your dentist may also give you tips on how to brush and floss more effectively at home, which is key to maintaining your oral health.

The Importance of Oral Health

The most common oral health conditions include periodontal diseases (gum diseases), such as gingivitis (gum inflammation) and periodontitis (damaging gum disease), as well as dental caries (also called tooth decay or cavities) and oral cancer.

Poor oral health is also linked to chronic and acute conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Among pregnant people, oral health conditions are linked to premature birth and low birth weight.

Plaque and Tartar Removal

Gum disease and tooth decay are caused by dental plaque buildup. Plaque contains bacteria that break down your tooth enamel over time. If left untreated, plaque can harden into tartar and lead to cavities, gingivitis (gum disease), or chronic periodontitis (advanced gum disease).

The purpose of professional teeth cleaning is to remove plaque and tartar. Once plaque hardens into tartar, it can't be removed by a conventional toothbrush at home.

Your dental hygienist will use a scraping tool, ultrasonic scaler, and electric brush to remove these deposits from between your teeth and along your gums.

If you already have signs of gum disease, your dental hygienist may need to perform deep cleaning with metal tools or ultrasonic instruments in order to remove plaque buildup from below the gumline. This process is called scaling and planing.

Periodontal Disease

Over 47% of U.S. adults ages 30 and over show signs of periodontal disease. Untreated gingivitis and periodontitis can cause inflammation, bleeding gums, mouth pain, and even tooth loss.

Professional Brushing and Flossing

Your dental hygienist will polish your teeth with an electric brushing tool and gritty toothpaste.

After polishing your teeth, your dental hygienist will use an interdental cleaner to floss in hard-to-reach places. Flossing removes food particles from between your teeth and helps prevent further plaque buildup and gingivitis.

Fluoride Treatment

Your professional dental cleaning session will usually conclude with a fluoride rinse as well as a fluoride varnish, which gets painted onto your teeth to remineralize (repair) your enamel and prevent cavities. Fluoride is a mineral that protects your tooth enamel from decay. 

Dental X-Rays

Some dental checkups may include X-ray imaging of your teeth, jaw, and mouth. If you visit a dentist regularly, you’ll most likely get dental X-rays once a year.


Getting your teeth professionally cleaned at least once or twice a year at a dental office can help to remove plaque and tartar, prevent gum disease and cavities, and remove stains. Professional teeth cleaning is an important step in maintaining your oral health. 

During a professional teeth cleaning session, a dental hygienist will remove plaque and tartar with a metal tool. Then, they will brush and floss your teeth and use a fluoride treatment to protect you from tooth decay. Your dentist will also examine your teeth and mouth for any signs or symptoms of oral health conditions.

A Word From Verywell

Professional teeth cleaning is a good way to maintain your oral hygiene and prevent dental problems in the future. Schedule at least one professional cleaning with your dentist each year to take care of your oral health.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much is teeth cleaning?

    The cost of professional teeth cleaning varies based on your location, insurance plan, and dental office. Some estimates suggest that a professional teeth cleaning session with a dental hygienist costs $90–$120 in the United States. Some dental insurance plans will cover 15%–50% of your costs.

  • How long does teeth cleaning take?

    From start to finish, a typical professional teeth cleaning session at a dental office takes 30–60 minutes. Your appointment may take longer if you need other tests or treatments, such as X-ray imaging. It may also take longer if you have a lot of plaque buildup or if your dentist discovers any problems with your teeth or mouth.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Oral hygiene.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oral health tips.

  3. American Dental Association. Your top 9 questions about going to the dentist - answered!.

  4. Naseem S, Fatima SH, Ghazanfar H, et al. Oral hygiene practices and teeth cleaning techniques among medical studentsCureus. 2017;9(7):e1487. doi:10.7759/cureus.1487

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Periodontal disease.

  6. HealthyPeople.gov. Oral health.

  7. American Dental Association. Plaque.

  8. National Institutes of Health. Don't toss the floss.

  9. Kanduti D, Sterbenk P, Artnik B. Fluoride: a review of use and its effect on healthMater Sociomed. 2016;28(2):133-137. doi:10.5455/msm.2016.28.133-137

  10. American Dental Association. A mom's guide to fluoride.

  11. Cigna Dental Plans. Average cost of teeth cleaning without insurance.

  12. Renew Dental Group. What happens during a professional teeth cleaning?.

By Laura Dorwart
Laura Dorwart is a health journalist with particular interests in mental health, pregnancy-related conditions, and disability rights. She has published work in VICE, SELF, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Week, HuffPost, BuzzFeed Reader, Catapult, Pacific Standard, Health.com, Insider, Forbes.com, TalkPoverty, and many other outlets.