What is Tooth Polishing?

Tooth polishing is a quick and easy procedure that removes the tenacious extrinsic (external) stains on your teeth. This leaves your mouth with a fresh taste and can help you avoid plaque residue after your cleaning appointment.


Most dental hygienists use a rubber cup and a polishing paste to polish your teeth. These polishers are either disposable or reusable after sterilization.

Removes Surface Stains

Tooth polishing is a common dental procedure that removes soft deposits and smooths the surface of the teeth. It also helps prevent bacterial plaque biofilm formation and improves aesthetics. It can be used to remove stains from the enamel of natural teeth or on tooth restorations like veneers and crowns. However, it is important to note that tooth polishing and cleaning are not the same thing. The latter is done with a cleaning agent that does not contain any abrasive particles and will not damage the dental structure.

Tooth Polishing removes both extrinsic stains and soft deposits from the tooth surface. It also reduces the risk of gingivitis and periodontal disease. It can also help to reduce corrosion of metallic dental restorations. It is most commonly performed as an adiional procedure following oral debridement and before fluoride application.

The type of prophy paste selected and the manner in which it is applied will impact on the effectiveness of the procedure. Coarse grit prophy pastes are very effective in extrinsic stain removal but come at the price of increased abrasion to the enamel and dentin which increases the rate of exogenous re-staining and bacterial plaque formation.

Fine grit prophy pastes increase tooth surface cleanliness, luster and smoothness but with less abrasion to the tooth surface. This makes them more resistant to extrinsic re-staining and bacterial calculus formation. Selective polishing using these prophy pastes allows the clinician to optimize the procedure with a view to minimal damage to the teeth and periodontal structures.

Makes Teeth Feel Smoother

Tooth polishing is one of the last procedures done during a professional dental cleaning appointment. After your hygienist scrapes away the loose plaque and calcified tartar buildup with scaling tools, they will apply a tooth-polishing paste to remove the remaining surface stains from your teeth. The process is usually a smooth, comfortable and quick experience, and the majority of polishing pastes are flavored, leaving a fresh, clean taste in your mouth afterward.

In addition to removing surface stains, a tooth-polishing procedure also eliminates small crevices and rough areas on the tooth’s surface that can hold bacteria and food particles. This results in a smoother tooth surface that can better resist plaque and other bacterial deposits.

While a polished tooth will not change the color of your teeth, it can make your smile appear brighter and healthier, especially when you have darker teeth to begin with. It is also an important preventive measure that should be part of your regular dental checkups and visits.

While you can purchase tooth-polishing products to use at home, it is best to have a dental professional perform this procedure as it requires the right equipment and expertise to avoid damaging the teeth and gums. During a professional polish, your hygienist will usually use a rubber brush with a polishing paste that contains either fine, medium or coarse abrasiveness.

Whitens Teeth

The polishing part of a dental cleaning is usually done at the end of your hygiene appointment, after the hygienist has scaled away loose plaque and calcified tartar. The dentist uses a soft rubber cup with a fine to coarse polishing paste to buff the surface of your teeth, which lifts off light stains and leaves your mouth feeling smooth and fresh.

Teeth polishing is especially important if you have a habit of drinking coffee, tea, or red wine regularly, because those are “extrinsic” stains that stain the outside of your teeth. They can be removed with a simple brushing or professional whitening treatment, and regular polishing helps keep them at bay.

In addition, if the bacteria-laden biofilm that forms on your teeth (called plaque) is left unattended, it can cause gum disease. Gum diseases destroy the supporting structures of your teeth, leading to tooth loss if not treated early and aggressively. Getting your teeth polished and professionally cleaned removes the bacterial buildup that is a major trigger for gum diseases.

Some people experience temporary sensitivity from the procedure, but it typically goes away within a few days. If you have thin enamel or existing tooth sensitivity, make sure to let the dental professional know before polishing so they can advise you about your options. Tooth polishing can also weaken your enamel slightly, leaving your teeth a bit more vulnerable to cavities until the outer layer grows back.

Prevents Plaque Buildup

Over time, bacteria breed on the teeth and create a sticky film known as plaque. If it is not removed by brushing or dental cleanings, plaque eventually calcifies into tartar. Tooth polishing removes the stains from the surface of the teeth and helps prevent plaque buildup by removing microorganisms that cause gum disease, tooth decay, and sensitivity.

In addition to developing good at-home oral hygiene habits and attending regular dental checkups, tooth polishing is an essential component of a healthy mouth. Tooth polishing was once a standard part of every cleaning, but it has since been recommended to be used selectively because repeated use erodes the outer layer of the teeth, making them more susceptible to stains and plaque accumulation.

Today, there are several types of teeth polishing pastes and devices. They can be either manual or powered and range in abrasiveness from fine prophylaxis paste to coarse scrub. They are available with a variety of abrasive materials such as pumice, aluminum silicate, or calcium carbonate. Some products are infused with glycine, xylitol, or Novamin for reduced sensitivity and increased stain removal capability.

Tooth polishing is one of the last steps in a prophylaxis procedure after the hygienist scales away loose plaque and calcified tartar from the teeth. It is typically done on the visible surfaces of the teeth, but may also be performed on the lingual aspect (on the backsides of the teeth) and the interproximal areas (between the teeth). During polishing, the dentist uses a rotating brush with a fine, medium, or coarse abrasiveness.