What is Tooth Polishing?

Tooth polishing is one of the last things your hygienist does at your cleaning appointment. It removes stains and leaves your teeth feeling extra clean and smooth.


Most dental professionals use a rubber cup with prophy paste that contains a fine, medium or coarse grit to polish the teeth. Alternatively, a jet of water and air can be used to gently scrub the surface of your teeth.

It removes stains

A regular dental cleaning procedure, like scaling and polishing, can help remove soft deposits and stains. However, teeth can get discolored over time due to food and beverage consumption. Tooth polishing helps to lift these stains from the surface of the tooth, leaving it clean and shiny. Tooth polishing is a safe procedure and can be performed by either a dentist or a hygienist. The procedure is especially important for people with gum disease, as it can prevent the onset of a more serious issue.

Tooth polishing involves the application of an abrasive material on the surface of the tooth to remove bacterial plaque biofilm and soft deposits. The abrasive materials used in polishing are usually natural, such as pumice, flour of pumice or calcium carbonate. A less abrasive material is also available, such as zirconium silicate, which produces minimal scratches. These abrasive materials can be applied to the tooth with an electric toothbrush, a hand-held polishing brush or a rotary tool.

Selective tooth polishing is the primary method to remove extrinsic stains after oral debridement and scaling. However, this is done with a view to minimal damage to the coronal structure of the tooth and with concern for patient needs. Dental hygienists must assess the etiology of staining and its appearance before selecting the type of polishing to use and how it will be used.

It makes your teeth whiter

Teeth polishing is a vital part of oral hygiene and keeps your smile looking clean and healthy. It also reduces the chance of plaque accumulation and gum disease. Periodic cleaning of your teeth removes stains and rough parts of the tooth’s surface, making it easier to maintain good oral hygiene with brushing and flossing. It also prevents the bacteria that cause tooth decay, bad breath, and gum disease from sticking to your teeth and causing infection.

Tooth polishing is generally done as one of the last steps in your dental cleaning appointment. The hygienist scrapes away loose plaque and calcified tartar before polishing. The final polishing step catches any soft biofilm that wasn’t removed with a scraping instrument and smooths out the overall tooth surfaces. This makes it harder for bacteria to cling to the teeth and build up again.

Your dental professional uses a variety of different polishing pastes, including pumice, calcium carbonate, and zirconium silicate. Most are flavored, leaving a fresh minty taste in your mouth after your cleaning appointment. While polishing can remove some extrinsic stains, it’s important to remember that tooth whitening is a more effective treatment for significantly brightening your smile. Professional teeth whitening treatments use bleaching agents to penetrate deep into your tooth enamel and can remove deeper stains, giving you a whiter, brighter smile.

It makes your teeth smoother

Tooth polishing is a part of the cleaning process that removes stains from the surface of your teeth. It also helps get rid of bacteria, plaque and tartar that can lead to gum disease and tooth decay. It is done during a dental cleaning, usually by a hygienist, and is a critical part of maintaining good oral health.

Your hygienist will use a rubber cup with a special prophy paste (that’s what we in the dental world call polishing materials) to remove surface stains from your teeth. You will notice that your teeth feel smoother after the polishing portion of your dental appointment.

The type of polishing powder used depends on the type of stain being removed. A light gray, siliceous material called pumice is a common ingredient in prophy pastes. Pumice is less abrasive than other types of polishing powder, and produces minimal scratches. Other polishing ingredients include calcium carbonate (also known as chalk), sodium bicarbonate and zirconium silicate.

In the past, it was thought that routine polishing of the teeth made it harder for the bacteria-laden gunk that causes gum disease and tooth decay to stick to the surfaces of the teeth. However, research has shown that removing the plaque and tartar during the ultrasonic scaling part of your hygiene visit is what really keeps bacteria from adhering to your teeth.

It makes your teeth less sensitive

While it is common for teeth to be temporarily sensitive after a cleaning, it’s important to understand that this sensitivity is normal and temporary. Typically, it’s caused by the removal of plaque and tartar, which has been protecting sensitive areas of your teeth. If the sensitivity continues for longer than a few weeks, you should visit your dentist to determine what additional treatments may be needed.

Another possible cause of sensitivity after a cleaning is toothbrush abrasion. If your hygienist uses a firm-bristled brush or aggressive brushing technique, this can wear away the protective enamel layer of your teeth, exposing the dentin underneath. This can lead to sensitivity and pain.

Tooth polishing has been shown to make it harder for bacteria-laden gunk that leads to gum disease and tooth decay to attach to teeth. However, polishing alone doesn’t make a significant difference in the prevention of these conditions. It must be combined with a thorough oral hygiene routine at home.

Tooth polishing is performed using a rotating hand-piece with a rubber cup that holds prophy paste (polishing paste) or a powder. Most dental offices use flavored polishing products to make the procedure more enjoyable for patients. Mint is the most popular choice, but some hygienists also use berry, orange, or bubble gum-flavored polish. Most of the time, hygienists rotate the hand-piece at a very slow speed to avoid excessive friction and abrasion.