What Tools Do Dental Professionals Use to Clean Teeth?

What Tools Do Dental Professionals Use to Clean Teeth?
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What Tools Do Dental Professionals Use to Clean Teeth?Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Specialized Tools for Professional Teeth Cleaning
  2. Dental Tool Effectiveness
  3. Mirrors
  4. Scalers
  5. Polishers
  6. Water Flossers
  7. Fluoride
  8. References

During a professional cleaning, a dental hygienist will typically use a variety of tools to clean plaque buildup off your teeth.

They will use specialized mirrors to thoroughly examine your teeth and then scalers to pick off plaque and tartar. Polishers are used to scrub teeth that are then treated with fluoride to protect them from cavities. A water flosser may also be used to clean in between the teeth.

The dentist will then examine your teeth carefully for any potential issues and devise a treatment plan, if needed.

Along with brushing and flossing regularly, going to the dentist for routine checkups and professional teeth cleanings is necessary for good oral health. Visiting your dentist regularly can help to prevent tooth decay and manage potential dental issues early.1

Specialized Tools for Professional Teeth Cleaning

It is generally recommended to see your dentist for a routine checkup and professional teeth cleaning about twice a year, or every six months. The American Dental Association (ADA) points out that everyone has different dental needs. You will need to work with your dentist directly to determine the frequency of your checkups and cleanings.

Most of the time, a dental hygienist will perform the actual professional teeth cleaning, and a dentist will examine your teeth (usually after the cleaning).

The dental hygienist will use several tools during the cleaning, such as these:

  • Mirrors
  • Scalers
  • Polishers
  • Water Flossers
  • Fluoride

Dental x-rays are usually taken for new patients. Then, they are taken on a recommended schedule to assess overall teeth health. X-rays can also help to identify, diagnose, and manage dental disease and damage that are not visible to the eye during a routine visit.2 You will not need x-rays at every dental examination or cleaning appointment.

The Effectiveness of Dental Tools

Dentists recommend that you brush your teeth at least twice per day with a fluoride toothpaste and floss once daily to help prevent tooth decay.3 But this is not enough.

The food you eat mixes with bacteria in your mouth that then forms plaque, which is a sticky film that sits on your teeth. With time, this plaque will harden into tartar.

Tartar is difficult to get off your teeth with regular brushing. It often needs to be scraped off with specialized dental tools.

Dental tools can be very effective at removing tartar and cleaning your teeth thoroughly. It is often difficult for you to see and reach all the surfaces of your teeth. A dental hygienist will have a better view of your teeth, so they can get to all of those hard-to-reach places and clean them extensively.

Specialized dental tools used by a trained dental professional are more effective for deep cleaning your teeth than what you use at home. They are a necessary aspect of proper oral hygiene.


One of the most basic, and most important, dental tools used by both dentists and dental hygienists is the dental mirror.

These mirrors help dental professionals to see all the surfaces of your teeth, including the very back of your mouth, and your gum tissue. The mirrors help them check for issues and spot tartar (calculus) deposits that need to be cleaned off.

Dental mirrors are either concave or flat, and front or back reflecting.

These mirrors also become a light source, as they can reflect the overhead lights better into the mouth and area that is being examined. A concave mirror can magnify the area for an even more close-up look.

Dental mirrors are made from several types of materials, including metal like stainless steel. They can also be disposable, offering a lightweight option.


A scaler is a hook-like metal tool that dentist and dental hygienists use to scrape off plaque and tartar from your teeth. It has a pointed end that is used on your teeth above the gum line and a curved blunt end that can get underneath your gum line, at the base of your teeth, without harming the gum tissue there.

Dental professionals may also use a sonic or ultrasonic scaler. These are small machines that use wavelengths and frequencies to loosen and remove plaque and tartar.

Dental professionals often use a combination of both a hand scaler and an ultrasonic one to thoroughly clean your teeth.


After scaling, the next tool a dental professional will often use during a teeth cleaning is a polisher. This is an electric device with a rubber cup on the end that spins at a low speed.

Tooth polishers are either handheld or engine-driven. Most of the time, tooth polishing involves both a polishing agent and a mechanical device.

A dental hygienist will often use a type of paste that can feel gritty and is mildly abrasive. This helps to buff your teeth and make them smooth and shiny.

Tooth polishing is not always part of every dental cleaning, as it can weaken the enamel with overuse. As a result, the polisher is usually used on a case-by-case basis, as needed.4

Water Flossers

After a deep clean of your teeth, flossing is next. A dental hygienist may use regular floss to get deep between your teeth or a water flosser to remove particles that can become trapped between your teeth and just under the gum line.

A water flosser is a machine that shoots a stream of water out. It uses water pressure to remove plaque and get between the teeth instead of manual hand pressure.

A water flosser can reach areas regular floss cannot. It can also massage the gums and boost overall gum tissue health.5


A regular dental cleaning often involves a fluoride treatment at the end. The fluoride solution used by dental professionals is stronger than the solutions you would have or use at home.

Fluoride can help to protect your teeth from cavities. It can also help repair teeth in the early stages of tooth decay.6

Fluoride treatments at the dentist involve either a solution, varnish, foam, or rinse. They can be applied to your teeth with a cotton swab or tray.

This treatment takes only a few minutes. Generally, you will be asked not to eat or drink anything for at least 30 minutes after the treatment.

Fluoride treatments may be needed every 3, 6, or 12 months, depending on your specific oral health and your dentist’s recommendation.

General References

American Dental Association Statement on Regular Dental Visits. (June 2013). American Dental Association (ADA). Date Fetched: July 22, 2021.

Mirror Image. (August 2006). RDH Magazine. Date Fetched: July 22, 2021.

Magnetostrictive vs. Piezoelectric: Survey Compares Merits of Ultrasonic Scalers. (November 2016). RDH Magazine. Date Fetched: July 22, 2021.

Medical References

1 Decay. Mouth Healthy. American Dental Association (ADA). Date Fetched: July 22, 2021.

2 Oral Health Topics X-Rays/Radiographs. (August 2019). American Dental Association (ADA). Date Fetched: July 22, 2021.

3 Tooth Decay. (April 2016). U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). Date Fetched: July 22, 2021.

4 Tooth Polishing Procedure. (August 2018). News Medical Life Sciences. Date Fetched: July 22, 2021.

5 Evaluation of the Plaque Removal Efficacy of a Water Flosser Compared to String Floss in Adults After a Single Use. (2015). Journal of Clinical Dentistry. Date Fetched: July 22, 2021.

6 Fluoride Treatments in the Dental Office. (March 2007). Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA). Date Fetched: July 22, 2021.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.