What to Expect During & After a Scale & Clean Visit

If it’s been a number of years since you have had your teeth cleaned, this information will be especially relevant to you. If you typically try to come once or twice a year for a cleaning, you should find things a lot more manageable, but it’s always good to have lots of information to make things less stressful!

When we brush our teeth, we are removing the soft plaque or immature biofilm layer from the surface of our teeth. This biofilm layer is made up of bacteria from our mouth, remnants of food we have eaten, and calcium/salts from our saliva. Biofilm starts to thicken and become much harder to brush away 12-24 hours after our last brushing. It is ideal to mechanically remove biofilm at LEAST once every 12 hours, this is why we encourage brushing twice a day. Flossing removes the biofilm from the areas the toothbrush can’t reach.

Hard biofilm, known as tartar or calculus, is almost impossible to remove with a toothbrush or floss. This tartar will get progressively thicker as time passes. There are some areas where tartar will accumulate, even if you are brushing and flossing every day. One of these areas is behind the bottom front teeth. This area is close to your main saliva gland, and so we tend to get a lot more tartar accumulation here.

If your mouth is acidic, you will get less tartar, but this is not a good sign! If your oral pH is more balanced, you will find that the salts or minerals will precipitate out of your saliva onto your teeth more easily.

What is important is to have the right balance. There should be a little amount of tartar when you come for your cleaning, but it shouldn’t be excessive and we shouldn’t find that there is none there if it has been 6-12 months since your last cleaning.

When we clean your teeth, we are removing the soft biofilm and the hard tartar from your teeth. We use several different instruments to remove this build up. Generally speaking, removing soft build up is painless, but removing harder build up can be a little bit uncomfortable, especially if there is a thick layer of hard build up.
Tartar or hard build up on your teeth sits attached to the teeth at one side and to your gum line at the other. As we remove this build up it is normal to feel a couple of things;

1. Cold sensitivity: As the layer of build up comes off and the air and water touches your teeth. The part of your teeth under the build up has been shielded for some time, and as it comes off you will feel feelings that you have not had for a while. This is normal and not a sign that you have holes or cracks on your teeth. The hard build up will also sometimes be pushing on your gums and pushing them away from your teeth.

2. Loose gums: As the build up comes away your gums may be a little bit “loose” around the neck of your teeth. Usually gums sit up around the neck of the tooth, where the enamel starts, covering the roots of the teeth. When the gums get pushed away by tartar or become loose, your roots will be exposed to air and water, and this can also feel sensitive. After the build up is removed, it will take some time for the gums to “tighten” back up against the necks of your teeth.

3. Mild pain: A small amount of pain is sometimes felt in your gums as the tartar is removed from the gum tissue. As we scrape or vibrate the tartar off your teeth it also needs to come off the area where it attaches into the gums. As this build up is removed you will sometimes feel a pinching sensation. It is usually only a few seconds in duration, but if you are not expecting it, it can be a little bit of a shock. Just remember it is normal and not a sign of a serious problem.

After the cleaning has finished and in the week following you may feel;
1. Gaps! Once the hard build up is removed, you may feel “gaps” between your teeth with your tongue, especially behind the bottom front teeth. This can be really confronting! Rest assured, there has been no damage down to your teeth and these gaps are just the normal edges of your teeth that not long before were covered by tartar! After a day or so things will feel normal again and your tongue will not notice the gaps anymore! Some people even like the post cleaning “gappy” feeling, and look forward to it after their cleaning!

2. Temperature sensitivity: We have removed a layer of built up tartar and bacterial biofilm from your teeth. If you have something cold to eat or drink after your teeth have been freshly cleaned you will feel it a lot more than before. Think of this as going outside on a cold morning and taking off your jumper. We have removed a “layer” of insulation off your teeth, and they will need time to recalibrate. It’s normal to have sensitivity for up to a week after your cleaning, it should be getting less with each passing day.

3. Tender gums: Some of the hard build-up we removed was not only covering your teeth, it was also attached to your gum line. Removing hard tartar from your gums is similar to removing a splinter from your finger. The skin will be a little bit red and tender for a day or two, even after the splinter is removed, while it heals. Similarly, your gums will also be a little sore as they heal.

4. Sore jaw/neck muscles: if it has taken 30-45 minutes to fully clean your teeth, it is only natural that your jaw and surrounding muscles may be a little bit tight and sore for a few days after your cleaning. This is because you are using different muscles to normal day to day, opening your mouth for an extended period.

So what can you do to make your teeth and gums feel better after your cleaning? The first step is DO NOT STRESS! All of the things mentioned above are totally normal, and not a sign that there are issues with your teeth or gums. Do not panic if you feel sensitivity or tenderness, this will often be your first reaction, but rest assured things will go back to normal very soon.

1. Don’t push it: avoid really cold or any extremes of temperature for the next few days after your cleaning. If icy water, or an ice cream is going to feel quite uncomfortable, just avoid this type of thing for a little while. It is also wise to avoid anything too spicy for 24 hours after your cleaning, as it may sting a little on your freshly cleaned gums.

2. Pain relief: If you would like, you can take some over the counter pain relief or anti-inflammatory medication. You can safely do this for a few days after your cleaning, to get you past the initial tender stage

3. Be gentle with yourself: For example don’t have a double decker hamburger for dinner! Anything that involves stretching or working your jaw muscles more should be avoided for a couple of days. Try to stretch and even use a heat/ice pack if you would like.

4. Salt water rinsing: Salt is “nature’s antibiotic”. Making up a mixture of salt and warm water and doing some gentle rinsing a few times a day for the next few days will assist with the healing process.

5. Careful cleaning: For the 24-48 hours after your cleaning just ease yourself into the process of brushing and flossing. It’s normal to leave the clinic feeling enthusiastic and wanting to floss, but if your teeth and gums have had a thorough clean it may be a good idea to take it easy at first.

After reading this I hope you feel more relaxed about what to expect during and after your next dental cleaning!