Dental Prophylaxis – Is Tooth Polishing Really Necessary?

Teeth polishing is the last step of a regular dental cleaning appointment and it is usually performed by a dental hygienist. This procedure removes stains and makes teeth look white and shiny.


It is also known to help prevent gum disease and tooth decay by removing plaque, tartar, and stains from the teeth. It also helps freshen the breath and improves overall oral health.


Tooth polishing is an important dental procedure that makes teeth appear whiter and healthier by removing surface stains. It is a key component of prophylaxis and can be performed by dentists and hygienists. However, it should be considered carefully as there are adverse effects associated with the process such as gingivitis and damage to enamel.

Tooth enamel is a hard, reflective substance that covers the tooth’s dentin and roots. It can become discolored due to various factors including eating and drinking certain foods and beverages such as coffee, tea, red wine and cola, smoking and some antimicrobial rinses. These are called extrinsic stains. There are also other factors that can cause staining such as underlying diseases like developmental or drug-induced enamel hypoplasia, bruxism, and trauma from orthodontic treatment.

Typically, a rubber cup or prophy angle that is plugged into a low speed hand-piece and an ADA approved polishing paste is used for tooth polishing. A bristle brush can be used on the prophy angle, but should only be used proximal to the gum line and short intermittent strokes are used in order to avoid damage to the gingiva or cementum.

Although tooth polishing has no therapeutic value, it does remove plaque biofilm and extrinsic stains. It can also reduce the corrosion of metallic restorations and restore luster to the tooth surface.

Plaque Removal

Usually done at the end of a dental cleaning appointment, polishing is used to remove light surface stains and makes teeth look smooth and healthy. It can be a very effective way to help prevent tooth cavities, gum disease and even heart disease.

Plaque is a sticky substance that forms on teeth and contains harmful bacteria. When left untreated it calcifies into tartar. Regular brushing, flossing and dental cleanings are the best ways to keep plaque under control. However, if brushing and flossing do not remove the plaque, it can lead to gum disease (periodontitis) which can cause tooth loss, bone loss and other health problems.

Tooth polishing removes the whitish film on your teeth and helps to prevent plaque buildup which can eat away at your enamel. It also helps to freshen breath by reducing the bacteria in your mouth which can lead to halitosis.

Tooth polishing is done with a special prophy paste that has different particle sizes which can be fine, medium or coarse grit. The paste is applied to the teeth and gently rubbed in with a rubber cup or rotary tool. The abrasive particles remove the external stains and plaque and are then rinsed off with water. The EMS AIRFLOW polishing system with GBT is the latest in this technology and is very gentle on teeth while still being very effective in plaque and stain removal.

Bacteria Removal

When bacteria from food, saliva and the environment stick to your teeth, they form a sticky biofilm called plaque. While it’s not necessarily harmful, if this film stays on your teeth for too long it can cause gum disease, which results in tooth and bone loss. Good brushing and flossing removes the bacteria, but if plaque isn’t removed it eventually calcifies into tartar. Teeth polishing removes loose plaque, stains, and smooths the tooth surface to prevent plaque from building up again.

Your hygienist will use one of several types of polishing pastes or powders. They come in a wide variety of flavors, from mint to bubble gum, and most are designed to be gentle enough for your sensitive teeth. Some offices also offer a more sophisticated device that uses a jet of water, glycine or sodium bicarbonate, and air to remove stains that can’t be removed with the standard rubber cup method.

The procedure can remove extrinsic stains from the surface of your teeth, which are typically caused by tobacco or some foods and beverages, like coffee, tea, and red wine. However, it can’t remove intrinsic stains, which are the result of changes to the teeth in their development, from medications, or other factors. Some research has indicated that adding CBD to polishing powders can improve stain removal and kill bacteria, but more research is needed.


While tooth polishing can be a valuable procedure it can also lead to sensitivity issues. This sensitivity usually arises from the fact that the teeth have been exposed to abrasion. Tooth abrasion can occur from brushing too hard or using an abrasive tooth paste. It can also occur from the use of aggressive dental cleaning tools such as a high powered scaler.

Tooth sensitivity can also arise from gum disease (gum recession). As the roots of your teeth become exposed they can feel more sensitive to hot or cold, and food and drinks that may come into contact with them. The sensitivity is due to the fact that the root of the tooth does not have the protective enamel coating and is therefore more vulnerable.

A common way to remove abrasion is by sanding the surface of your teeth with a prophylaxis paste that has different particle sizes (coarse, medium and fine). The smaller particles can be particularly effective in removing exogenous stains.

However, sanding the surface of your teeth can result in a rough surface that will be more likely to accumulate plaque and stain. It can also damage the surfaces of restorations such as amalgam, composite and porcelain. This can cause inflammation and delayed tissue healing. For this reason, sanding should only be performed by qualified clinicians.