Teeth cleaning is part of oral hygiene and involves the removal of dental plaque from teeth with the intention of preventing cavities (dental caries), gingivitis, and periodontal disease. People routinely clean their own teeth by brushing and interdental cleaning, and dental hygienists can remove hardened deposits not removed by routine cleaning. Those with dentures and natural teeth may supplement their cleaning with a denture cleaner.
Teeth cleaning (also known as prophylaxis, literally a preventative treatment of a disease) is a procedure for the removal of tartar (mineralized plaque) that may develop even with careful brushing and flossing, especially in areas that are difficult to reach in routine toothbrushing. It is often done by a dental hygienist. Professional cleaning includes tooth scaling and tooth polishing and debridement if too much tartar has accumulated. This involves the use of various dental instruments or devices to loosen and remove deposits from the teeth.
As to the frequency of cleaning, careful research has not shown that more frequent cleaning leads to better outcomes. A literature of the research literature on the question concluded " the research evidence is not of sufficient quality to reach any conclusions regarding the beneficial and adverse effects of routine scaling and polishing for periodontal health and regarding the effects of providing this intervention at different time intervals" Thus, any general recommendation for a frequency of routine cleaning (e.g. every six months, every year) has no empirical basis. Moreover, as economists have pointed out, dentists (or other dental professionals) have an incentive to recommend frequent cleaning because it increases their revenues. Law professor Ian Ayres, author of Super Crunchers, has even questioned "Is Tooth Cleaning a Scam?"
The Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sunday examined the link between physical and dental health and its effect on the dental industry and insurers. Research by the U.S. surgeon general in 2000 found a link between good oral health and good physical health, and more recent research has found a link between gum disease and various other physical conditions. Although the research is not causal, the observed links "could mean a bonanza for dentistry, which long has been the afterthought of the health care industry," according to the Tribune. Aetna and Cigna both cover extra dental cleanings for pregnant women and people with heart disease or diabetes. Aetna recently studied medical records from 2001 and 2002 of 144,000 patients with three chronic diseases and found that those who had periodontal treatment in 2001 had lower medical bills than those who received dental treatment later in 2002 -- the bills were 9% lower for those with diabetes, 16% lower for those with coronary artery disease and 11% lower for those with cardiovascular disease. The Star Tribune notes that additional dental coverage often is only available to patients who use the same insurer for both dental and health coverage, which is not that common and therefore "a significant hurdle to integrating benefits." Greater integration of health and dental benefits is likely to come as baby boomers -- many of whom can expect to keep their teeth until their 90s -- age. Kim Harms, a dentist, said, "The last generation kept their teeth in a jar next to their bed. The baby boom generation wants to live longer and look better." Patrick Lloyd, dean of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, said that dental, medical, nursing and pharmacy students will take classes together for the first time this year at his institution. Lloyd said, "If we can show that investing small dollars in dental care saves big dollars in medical care, that's mind-boggling"