Do you enjoy a trip to the dentist? If so, you’re among a rare few.

The scratching with dental probes and the grinding of drills are enough to set most teeth on end. Among those activities you’ll experience at the dentist is the ‘scale and polish,’ where the dentist scratches around your teeth to remove tartar – that’s when the plaque builds up and hardens.

It’s usually done every six or 12 months as part of your regular dental check-up.

The thinking has been that a scale and polish helps to protect against gum disease and improve general oral health (plus, it’s usually quite a nice feeling to walk out of the dentist all clean and polished). But a new review of the evidence suggests that it may not make much of a difference to your oral health.

The researchers collected the available studies on the links between the scale and polish and gum disease. In these studies, one group of people had their usual scale and polish every six months, while the other group didn’t have a clean for up to three years.

At the end of the time period, they followed up all of those involved to see whether it made a difference to gum disease, to their levels of tartar, and to their subjective sense of how clean their teeth felt. Importantly, all of this was done in a group of people who already had good oral health – that is, they didn’t have any signs of gum disease at the beginning of the studies.

They couldn’t find any difference in the risk of gum disease between those who waited years for a scale and polish and those who had it done every six months.

Those who had a scale and polish every six months didn’t have better gum health

There was less build-up of calculus in those who had regular polishing, as you’d expect, but that didn’t seem to make a difference to oral health.

One positive finding was that patients did seem to enjoy the clean feeling they had after their treatment.

Implications

You might like to speak to your dentist about the possibility of skipping a scale and polish here and there.

But this does come with caveats – it’s only if you are already in good oral health, and it doesn’t mean you can skip a check-up altogether – as cavities, decay and malignant changes especially in smokers can still be picked up during those regular dentist visits.

Last Reviewed: 26/01/2020

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

For reference: Lamont, et al (2019). Routine scale and polish for periodontal health in adults. Cochrane Library doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004625.pub5.