Tooth Polishing – Why You Should Get Your Teeth Polished

Tooth polishing is usually the last procedure your hygienist performs during your cleaning appointment. The dental professional uses a flavored polishing paste (prophy pastes) to remove surface stains from your teeth.


The polishing brushes and rubber cups are either disposable or reusable after sterilization. Christensen and Bangerter found that most tooth surfaces require 2-5 s for polishing using a patting motion.


Patients can see and feel the difference of a smooth, clean surface when teeth are polished. They also enjoy the fresh taste in their mouth that is so free of sticky plaque residue after polishing.

Tooth polishing is used to remove stains from the outer surfaces of teeth and restorations (crowns, veneers) and reduce corrosion of metallic dental appliances. The procedure is usually done after scaling and debridement with the help of a prophy cup and an abrasive tooth polishing paste. It is now considered to be a cosmetic procedure with minimal therapeutic value.

A wide variety of commercially available abrasive materials are used to clean the tooth surfaces during polishing. The choice of the abrasive material should be based on the type of stains, patients’ clinical needs, and the clinician’s skill level and comfort.

Tooth polishing is done with latex-free rubber cups (prophy cups) and a polishing paste containing an abrasive agent in either a straight or contra-angle handpiece at a velocity of 2500 to 3000 rpm. The rubber cup contacts the tooth surface for about 4.5 seconds to achieve the polishing effect. Polishing is a gentle and comfortable procedure, compared to the sharp scraping of bacterial plaque biofilm with periodontal instruments. The abrasion generated is relatively low and there is little risk of enamel damage.

Plaque Removal

As bacteria digest food in your mouth, they create a sticky substance called biofilm, which is usually clear but can turn yellowish when it lingers too long. It also clings to the grooves and pits of your teeth, leading to a buildup of plaque. If you don’t remove it with brushing, it can eventually lead to gum disease and tooth loss. Your hygienist can usually remove the loose and calcified biofilm with a scaler, but polishing can go even further, smoothing out the overall surface of your teeth.

The process of polishing involves using a prophy paste, which contains finely ground abrasives. It can be found in many different grits (or levels of abrasiveness) from coarse to medium, which gradually reduce the size of scratches made on the tooth’s surface. The smaller the scratches, the less they’ll stain, and your teeth will look shiny and lustrous.

This is one of the main reasons patients request this procedure during their cleaning appointments; they want to feel and see tangible benefits. The abrasive particles in the prophy paste help scrub away the external stains and plaque, which makes teeth feel cleaner and fresher. However, it is important to note that polishing does not remove internal stains, which are caused by genetics and certain dental defects.


It’s important to understand that lingering tooth sensitivity after your cleaning is normal and should subside in a few days. If you have persistent sensitivity, speak with your dentist or dental hygienist to determine whether an underlying issue needs to be addressed.

Tooth polishing is usually done with a rubber cup and prophy paste and it is important that the tooth contact time is limited as much as possible to avoid injury to the gingiva. In one clinical study, Christensen and Bangerter found that it takes an average of 4.5 s for the rubber cup to touch each surface of the teeth during a standard polishing session.

Routine polishing removes the external enamel layer and can lead to morphological changes in the surface of the tooth. This can affect the ability of bacteria to colonize the surface, especially if abrasive particles are used. It is therefore recommended that routine polishing only be performed on those surfaces that remain stained after scaling, selective polishing.

The abrasives used in the polishing process vary from fine to coarse and can include pumice, calcium carbonate, feldspar or zirconium silicate. The abrasives are formulated into different formulations such as gels, powders and pastes and they can be flavored to make them more palatable for patients (kids might prefer bubble gum or berry while adults tend to like mint). Regardless of the type of abrasive chosen, the abrasives should always be used at a low and controlled speed.


Tooth polishing is a process that removes light stains and helps to prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar. When left to accumulate, these deposits are very hard and difficult to remove without professional intervention in the form of dental teeth cleaning and polishing. Even the most stained teeth can benefit from this process. Stains such as yellow stains, brown stains and black stains can be removed from the surface of enamel by tooth polishing. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to have regular dental cleanings and follow a good oral hygiene regimen including twice-daily brushing, daily flossing and twice-yearly dental visits.

Stains that are not removed by teeth cleaning or whitening can be caused by food, beverages and certain habits like tobacco smoking, betel quid chewing and excessive use of chlorhexidine. These stains are called extrinsic stains and vary in color from green to orange and black. They can be removed with prophy pastes. However, too much abrasion can damage the enamel and lead to demineralization which is why it’s important to decrease the amount of pressure being applied to the tooth during prophylaxis.

The type of prophy paste used and the particle size can also play a role in how well stains are removed. Those with coarse or medium particles tend to be the most effective for extrinsic stain removal but may also cause more abrasion and damage to the tooth surface, increasing the likelihood of future re-staining. To prevent this, it’s recommended that the particle size be decreased to a finer variety of prophy pastes that provide a more polished and aesthetic appearance without causing excessive abrasion.