Dental Hygiene – What is Tooth Polishing?

Tooth polishing is a procedure done by dental hygienists to make teeth shiny and smooth. It can also help remove stains that are not due to harmful habits.


This step comes after scaling (where the hygienist scrapes off the heavy buildup) and before flossing. It involves rubbing the teeth with an abrasive paste in rubber cups (prophy cups) attached to a hand-piece that is rotated at low speed.


In addition to cleaning plaque and reducing bacterial accumulation, tooth polishing helps restore a natural lustrous appearance to the teeth and gums. It is a common procedure performed during regular professional dental cleanings by dentists or hygienists. Tooth polishing uses an abrasive agent to remove a thin layer of the tooth surface. The abrasive agents most commonly used are pumice, calcium carbonate, glycine, perlite and zirconium silicate. Some products are flavored (mint, berry, orange and even bubble gum).

Tooth polishing is usually done to help patients embrace their smile. It can also be a component of other aesthetic and restorative procedures such as dental crowns, bridges and veneers.

While routine tooth polishing has no curative value it is recommended to maintain good oral health. A smooth, lustrous tooth surface is less likely to colonize bacteria and thus reduces the risk of infection.

However, polishing should be reserved for those dental surfaces that are visibly stained. Stains are generally classified into two categories: endogenous and exogenous. Endogenous stains include those caused by developmental, drug-induced or enamel hypoplasia defects while exogenous stains are caused by poor eating habits and smoking. While endogenous stains cannot be polished away, most extrinsic stains can be removed by scaling and polishing. Selective polishing can be used when a patient has a valid therapeutic reason for it.


Dental polishing helps to remove plaque and tartar, which cannot be removed with brushing and mouth rinsing. In addition, it reduces the risk of subgingival inflammation by reducing bacteria in the periodontal pocket. It also removes extrinsic stains, thereby enhancing the appearance of teeth and improving patient comfort.

A variety of polishing compounds is available in the market. The most commonly used one is a flour of pumice. It is a light gray siliceous material, which is used to polish tooth enamel, gold foil, amalgam and acrylic resins. It has a high abrasive depth and average polishing capacity. Other polishing agents are calcium carbonate (also known as chalk) and zirconium silicate. They are less abrasive than pumice and produce minimal scratches on the surface of the tooth. They are frequently found in dental prophylaxis pastes.

These products may contain binders, humectants, flavoring agents and preservatives to increase patient motivation and acceptability. They also contain fluoride releasing agents, which promote oral health and prevent caries.

The abrasive compounds that are used for dental polishing can damage the exposed dentin of the roots of the teeth. This is especially true for patients with deep pockets and gingival recessions, as these areas are harder to access. In addition, the particles can scratch the soft tissues of the gums. Moreover, they can contaminate hard surfaces and create aerosols that may transmit infectious microorganisms.


The bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease create a sticky substance called biofilm on teeth to protect themselves. If this is not removed regularly through brushing, it can lead to tooth and gum disease. Tooth polishing is a dental hygiene procedure that removes biofilm from the surface of your teeth. This prevents gum disease and cavities, and can make your teeth feel smoother and cleaner.

The process of polishing involves using an abrasive paste to scrub stains and buildup off your teeth. Your hygienist will choose the right abrasive for your needs, and there are many different types of abrasives available. A few examples include pumice, glycine and sodium bicarbonate, and aluminum silicate. The shape and size of the abrasive particles affects how much pressure is applied and how quickly the abrasion occurs. The speed of the abrasion also impacts your comfort, as it can generate frictional heat that makes your teeth sensitive.

A polished surface is less prone to plaque and stain accumulation, making your teeth appear whiter and more luminous. In addition, prophylaxis pastes that contain smaller abrasive particle sizes can increase the gloss and luster of the surface of your teeth.


Once the hygienist has completed the scaling, she will polish your teeth with an abrasive paste. The abrasive action of the toothpaste removes the thin coating of biofilm and stains that have built up on your teeth. Besides the cosmetic benefit, this step helps prevent gingivitis.

Traditionally, tooth polishing has been a routine prophylaxis procedure for most dental practices. But routine polishing has been shown to reduce the fluoride-rich fine enamel layer. It also takes a long time for the enamel to grow back. The abrasion caused by polishing also leads to micro-etching of the tooth surface that promotes staining. It is important to note that these effects do not occur overnight, and the damage can be reversed with appropriate toothbrushes and proper oral hygiene.

Dental hygienists typically use rubber cups with coarse, medium, and fine grit prophy paste to polish the teeth. Coarse pastes are most effective for removing surface stains, but they can also microscopically scratch and roughen the teeth’s surface, promoting more staining later on. The fine grit pastes are less damaging and more efficient in removing stains, but they can be ineffective at removing deeply embedded stains.

Lastly, the abrasive action of the polishing paste may cause some discomfort for patients with sensitive teeth or gums. It is always best to report pain or sensitivity to your dentist so they can adjust the cleaning method next time.