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Teeth scaling and polishing: is It worth the cost?

Teeth scaling is a preventive procedure that scrapes plaque and tartar from your teeth to keep your teeth healthy.

Often a standard part of routine dental cleanings, teeth scaling and polishing can not only leave your teeth feeling smooth, they can prove effective in preventing tooth decay and gum disease.1 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of all adults in the U.S. over 30 have some form of gum disease, making it one of the very biggest threats to dental health today.2

What are teeth scaling and polishing?

Teeth scaling and polishing are preventive procedures usually performed together as part of your biannual dental cleaning and exam.

What is teeth scaling

Teeth scaling is a preventive procedure that scrapes plaque and tartar from your teeth in order to keep your teeth and gums healthy.3

How teeth scaling works

Your dentist or dental hygienist may use one or both of the following methods to scale your teeth. Research has found both methods to be effective.4

  • Handheld dental tools. Your dentist might use a manual scaler or curette to scrape plaque from your teeth.
  • Ultrasonic instruments. An ultrasonic scaling instrument with a vibrating metal tip can chip off plaque and tartar. It’s usually used in conjunction with a water spray.5

What is teeth polishing?

Teeth polishing smooths the tooth’s surface and minimizes the deposition of dental plaque.6 Usually performed right after scaling, a teeth polishing procedure removes surface stains from teeth and leaves them clean, glossy and smooth.7

How teeth polishing works

The three most common teeth polishing methods are the following:

  • Bristle brush polishing - Polishing teeth with polishing paste and a circular bristle brush attached to an electronic handpiece.
  • Rubber-cup polishing - Polishing teeth with polishing paste and a circular rubber cup attached to an electronic handpiece. A study in the Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology found this method to be more effective than bristle brush polishing or air polishing.8
  • Air polishing - Polishing teeth with an air polishing device, which gently polishes the teeth with a mixture of compressed air, water and powder. Air polishing is a relatively new practice, but research has found it to be as effective as conventional methods.9

Periodontal scaling and root planing

While teeth scaling and polishing work to help prevent gum disease, periodontal scaling and root planing help treat gum disease. If you have periodontitis or gum disease, scaling and root planing is usually the least invasive and most cost-effective way to treat it.10

Often called a deep cleaning, periodontal scaling is like routine teeth scaling. It also removes plaque and tartar from the teeth. However, in a deep cleaning, the dentist performs scaling both above and below the gum line, closer to the root of the tooth. After scaling, the dentist then performs root planing, which involves smoothing the exposed surface of the roots in order to help the gums heal more quickly.11

Root planing and scaling can be performed in one or multiple visits. Though nonsurgical, it can sometimes be painful and may require a local anesthetic.12

How much does teeth polishing cost?

Routine teeth scaling and polishing are often included as part of regular cleanings. They’re a type of preventive care usually covered by insurance. If you have dental insurance, regular cleanings that include teeth scaling and polishing may be fully covered by your plan. However, if you don’t have dental insurance, these cleanings can be expensive. If you’re interested in getting your teeth scaled and polished, getting dental insurance may be worth it.

Periodontal scaling and root planing are typically more expensive than routine teeth scaling and polishing. However, if you have gum disease and your dentist recommends the procedure, it’s may be covered by insurance.

Is teeth scaling and polishing worth it?

If you have dental insurance, getting your teeth routinely scaled and polished during your biannual cleaning may be worth it. If you don’t, you may want to enroll in dental insurance first.

Teeth scaling and polishing are only part of keeping your teeth clean and healthy. It’s important to practice good oral hygiene at home. In addition to seeing your dentist regularly, the American Dental Association also recommends that you:13

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
  • Clean between your teeth every day
  • Eat a healthy diet that limits sugary beverages and snacks

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1., 2019
2. (Last accessed March 2020)
3. (Last accessed March 2020)
4., 2016
5. (Last accessed March 2020)
6., 2018
7. (Last accessed March 2020)
8., 2018
9., 2018
10. (Last accessed March 2020)
11. (Last accessed March 2020)
12. (Last accessed March 2020)
13., 2019

Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.

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