Tooth polishing is a dental procedure that leaves your tooth enamel glossy and smooth. At many dental offices, it’s a standard part of a routine cleaning appointment.
Tooth polishing doesn’t just have a cosmetic benefit for your teeth. This procedure, when paired with dental scaling, can freshen your breath and help you avoid tooth decay.
We spoke to a dentist to find out:
- if tooth polishing is important for oral health
- how often you should have your teeth polished
- how much this procedure costs
- whether or not you should try to polish your own teeth at home
Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and more.
“Tooth polishing is something we do at every visit in our office,” says Dr. Zachary Linhart, of Linhart Dentistry in Manhattan. It’s one of the final steps of a tooth cleaning appointment at the dentist.
- Step 1: Your teeth are inspected for decay and weak spots in the enamel.
- Step 2: Plaque and tartar are scraped from the surface of your teeth in a process called scaling.
- Step 3: Your teeth are then buffed and polished to remove staining before being flossed and topped with a protective coat of fluoride.
Dr. Linhart says there are two primary ways that standard polishing can be done. “[The first] is with a slow speed dental drill and a rubber cup. The cup is dipped in a slightly abrasive polishing paste and used to clean and polish the teeth.”
Linhart prefers to use what he calls “a blasting type of device loaded with baking soda powder” at his practice.
“This type of polishing is most effective at getting into the cracks and crevices in and between teeth. The baking soda is not abrasive and won’t wear away teeth enamel.”
That same review did note that those who had their teeth polished and scaled had significantly less plaque buildup on their teeth.
Having less plaque may preserve your tooth enamel, which is impossible to completely restore once it’s eroded or decayed. Tooth polishing also
“Polishing is both cosmetic and healthy. While it certainly can significantly improve the look of your teeth, it also removes unwanted plaque and biofilm, to create healthy gums.”
— Dr. Linhart, Linhart Dentistry, New York
Dr. Linhart agrees that the purpose of polishing goes beyond achieving a whiter smile. An essential part of an effective polishing process is scaling, which takes place before the polishing starts.
Scaling, in which plaque and tartar are scraped from the teeth, usually uses a sharp metal tool to remove tough-to-reach plaque that your toothbrush might miss.
Dr. Linhart explains that scaling and polishing go hand in hand.
“In our office we polish, whether with polishing paste or baking soda, at every cleaning visit.
“It is combined with scaling since debris can be removed by hand and machine scaling, but polishing removes micro debris and gives that smooth, clean finish to the teeth.”
If you have dental insurance, tooth polishing should be covered as part of your routine dental exam and cleaning. That means tooth polishing may be free for you as a preventive care service.
If you don’t have dental insurance, tooth polishing can get expensive.
The cost of a dental exam and tooth cleaning without insurance varies widely and depends on the dentist you choose and the cost of living where you live.
Anecdotal reports suggest that, without insurance, a dental exam and cleaning costs somewhere between $150 and $300 in most places.
There are plenty of DIY recipes and over-the-counter (OTC) tooth polishing kits that claim to give the same result at home that you would get during a professional tooth polishing during a dental visit.
So, should you skip the trip to the dentist and polish your own teeth?
Dr. Linhart says, “You could, but we wouldn’t recommend it! Baking soda and silica in toothpaste have a similar effect [to tooth polishing at home].
“Enamel never comes back, so trying to do something yourself can lead to abrasion of the enamel, [tooth] sensitivity, and even tooth decay.”
As far as products that specifically claim to polish your teeth as well as the dentist would, Dr. Linhart advises that you steer clear.
“Avoid at-home kits at all costs. Most commercial toothpaste provides as much polishing [as] we would recommend for at home.”
“Tooth polishing is a pretty straightforward procedure, and there aren’t a lot of risks. Some dental conditions may require a gentler polishing method,” explains Dr. Linhart.
“Polishing is generally considered safe for all. If someone has very sensitive teeth, we may recommend cup polishing as it’s a little less aggressive.
“If a patient has severe erosion or previous wear on their teeth, we also may limit polishing.”
Polishing alone won’t prevent tooth decay unless it’s part of a cleaning routine that includes scaling and flossing at the dentist’s office.
To keep your teeth their glossy best, Linhart recommends a cleaning that includes scaling and polishing “every 6 months,” with one caveat.
“No two patients are the same. For those who accumulate buildup faster, have periodontal issues, or periodontal disease, we may recommend polishing up to every 2 months.”
Tooth polishing is a simple procedure that dentists pair with tooth scaling during your biannual cleaning and exam. When paired with tooth scaling, tooth polishing can result in smooth, white — and bacteria free — teeth.
Dentists don’t generally recommend trying to polish your own teeth with OTC tooth polishing kits.
If you have questions about tooth polishing, talk to your dentist at your next appointment.