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Tools of the Dental Trade: The Polishing Toothpaste
Sep 7, 2016

The gritty polishing toothpaste used at the dentist office may not be your favorite. But it’s an important part of keeping a healthy smile. A lot of people wonder about the tools we use, so here is the lowdown on the polishing process part of your six-month checkup.

What is the polishing toothpaste?
Dental hygienists use a flavored polishing toothpaste made of pumice, the flavor, and usually a tiny amount of fluoride. This usually follows the scaling process, which is when hygienists use metal tools to scrape plaque and tartar from your teeth. The polishing toothpaste is more coarse than regular toothpaste.

What about the toothbrush?
Your hygienist applies the polish with a airotor that has a small rubber cap. The cap, or polishing cup, holds the polishing paste. This cleaning takes place above the gum line. Any cleaning needed below the gum line is considered a different procedure.

Why do I need the polishing toothpaste?
While daily brushing and flossing are the most important part of keeping a healthy smile, this effort alone isn’t enough to prevent tooth decay over time. Bacteria love rough the rough surfaces of your teeth; the polish is gritty to help smooth those rough surfaces, sort of like sandpaper does for wood. This paste removes stains a regular toothbrush cannot and reduces the risk for cavities and gingivitis. The polish leaves your teeth shiny and smooth, which gives you a nice, clean feeling.

So can I use it at home?
Because the polish is so abrasive, it’s not recommended for daily use. Some people are concerned that polish is so abrasive it can cause enamel wear. However, studies have shown it is not a significant risk if only used twice a year during a dental visit.

I’ve heard the term “prophy.” What does that mean?
Prophy is short for prophylaxis (pronounced PRO-FIL-AXIS), which means to guard or prevent. This is the word used by both dentists and insurance companies to refer to your regular hygienist checkup. You’ll also hear the polishing toothpaste referred to as “prophy paste.”

What questions do you have about your Dental Care Center checkup?