It’s a biannual ritual (or at least it should be): the dental cleaning. While no one really expects to run joyfully to the dentist, knowing more about the types of cleanings and what to expect from each at least makes the experience a little easier. Getting the right types of cleaning, at the right times, can also greatly reduce your need for dental work in the future.

What are the types of dental cleaning?

There are three different types of dental cleanings.

  1. Basic cleanings (also known as prophylaxis or standard cleaning)
  2. Deep cleanings (scaling and root planing)
  3. Full mouth debridement

Basic cleaning

If you are one of the lucky ones with strong genetics and excellent oral hygiene, this may be the only cleaning you experience. A basic cleaning is the twice-yearly “clean sweep” of teeth and gums.

Your dental hygienist will use a handheld scaler to scrape away any hardened plaque on teeth before flossing and thoroughly brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste. A quick rinse and examination, and you’re all set for another six months.

Deep cleaning

Unfortunately, not many of us fall into the first category for our entire lives. Even with impeccable oral hygiene, age sometimes gets the better of our teeth and us.

Dental deep cleanings, also referred to as scaling and root planing, go below the gumline to remove tartar that is causing inflammation. This inflammation can lead to receding gums and gingival pockets that trap bacteria. Your dentist will use a either an ultrasonic or handheld scaler to loosen tartar, then a handheld scaler to smooth the tooth’s roots so that gums can reattach to teeth.

Full mouth debridement

Some patients may come to the dentist after many years away. They may have had health issues or fears of the dentist that prevented them from receiving a professional cleaning.

Whatever the reason, the result is often a profound build-up of plaque and tartar that must be removed before a deep cleaning can begin. This procedure uses an ultrasonic scaler and streams of water to remove stubborn hardened tartar and calculus above and below the gumline.

Do I need a dental cleaning?

The short answer is this: If you have not had a dental cleaning within the last six months, yes. You need to have your teeth professionally cleaned. But which cleaning is right for you?

Basic cleaning

If you have no history of tooth decay, no bleeding gums, and no dental problems that you know of, chances are good that you will only need a basic cleaning.

Deep cleaning

Patients who are experiencing the beginning signs of gingivitis may require a dental deep cleaning. Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease.

The signs are easy to recognize:

  • Gums that bleed during brushing and flossing
  • Teeth sensitivity
  • Gum inflammation
  • Pain

It’s possible that deep cleaning may only be necessary for a portion of your mouth, with a basic cleaning doing the job for the rest.

Full mouth debridement

A full mouth debridement is what it sounds like: a total mouth cleaning. A full mouth debridement may be in your future if you:

  • Have not been to the dentist in years
  • Are diagnosed with periodontal disease
  • Have several loose teeth
  • Are experiencing tartar build-up that is causing severe pain and inflammation

What can I expect during a dental cleaning?

Each type of cleaning – basic cleaning, deep cleaning, and full mouth debridement – has different points to consider in terms of the procedure, the cost, and time you can expect to spend in the chair.

The procedure

A basic cleaning is the simplest cleaning. There is no a