What to Know About Dental Polishing

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021
3 min read

Dental polishing, sometimes called tooth polishing, is a cleaning method your dentist uses to keep your teeth healthy. It is used to:

  • Smooth the surface of your teeth
  • Remove stains
  • Get rid of plaque 
  • Make your teeth look shiny and clean
  • Prevent gum disease and irritation

At your regular appointment, your hygienist will first clean your teeth and remove any plaque buildup. This process is called scaling. After your teeth are clean, your hygienist might take scans of them. Then, your dentist will inspect your teeth for any cavities and other problems. 

Lastly, they'll polish your teeth to get rid of any lasting plaque. 

There are two methods:

Rubber cup. Your dental hygienist uses a slow drill with a rubber cup or brush. The cup is dipped in some dental polishing paste and then applied to your teeth. The paste is an abrasive that scrubs away any stains and plaque.

Air powder polishing. With this, they'll use a slurry of water and baking soda with air and water pressure to polish your teeth. It’s sometimes used with an ultrasonic plaque remover.

Air polishing is used in between teeth and cracks where the rubber cup can’t reach and to remove plaque above your gum line. 

Sometimes your hygienist might use other types of powders, including: 

  • Calcium sodium phosphosilicate
  • Calcium carbonate
  • Aluminum trihydroxide
  • Glycine 
  • Emery
  • Silica 
  • Perlite 

Air polishing can be helpful for sensitive teeth. It might also help with braces because it won’t affect your brackets.

Tooth polishing helps keep plaque off your teeth. Research suggests that teeth polishing doesn’t stop you from getting gum disease, but people who have polishing done tend to have less bacteria. 

You always have bacteria in your mouth, but some types cause cavities. As they grow, they create a sticky substance called biofilm. This protects them and helps them keep growing. That biofilm is the plaque on your teeth.

Gum disease, called periodontitis, can happen when bacteria, food, or plaque get beneath the gums and aren’t properly treated. This can lead to gum, tooth, and bone loss. 

Keeping your teeth healthy and cavities in check means regularly removing the biofilm. You can do this with brushing your teeth twice a day, with regular cleanings, and with tooth polishing.

Mostly though, tooth polishing is cosmetic. The rough powders can scrub stains from your teeth and make your teeth look healthy and clean. 

Polishing can get rid of stains from:

  • Coffee
  • Wine
  • Tea
  • Smoking 
  • Betel quid or areca nut chewing

Some stains are on the inside of your teeth and polishing won’t get rid of them. These can happen as your teeth are developing and can be caused by:

  • Antibiotics
  • Certain infections
  • Inherited diseases
  • Calcium deposits

Your dentist might not polish your teeth if you have these kinds of stains. 

There are lots of tooth polishing home kits available to buy. These usually use baking soda or other types of abrasives to scrub the teeth. While using baking soda to clean your teeth at home is generally safe, it’s not a good idea to try polishing at home.

Some products might have ingredients that are too hard on your teeth. If you polish your teeth too much, you can:

  • Wear down tooth enamel
  • Damage the tooth surface
  • Keep more bacteria on your teeth

These products can also irritate your gums and sting. 

You might find “professional strength” power polishers with small rubber or bristle heads. Do not use these devices at home on your teeth. You can easily damage your enamel and cause tooth sensitivity or hurt your gums. 

To keep your teeth healthy, make sure to: 

  • Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste every morning and before bed
  • Floss your teeth twice daily
  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Drink less sugary drinks
  • Eat less sugary treats
  • See your dentist every year for a cleaning and checkup
  • Treat your teeth problems as soon as possible

If your teeth bother you, or if you’re thinking about trying a dental polishing home kit, make sure to talk to your dentist.