Why You Shouldn’t Have Your Teeth Polished at the Dentist


Dental instruments on a tray with polish paste in a small cup

(or at least not at every appointment)

Many people think that polishing is a vital part of the dental hygiene appointment… well, hate to tell you it’s not. 

Polish is abrasive and meant to remove the layer of plaque and stain on your teeth. But with that, it can take off a microscopic layer of your tooth surface. The polish does not benefit your oral health in any way, with the plaque starting to form again seconds after being removed.

Nowadays, most people are taking good care of their teeth. It is not like it used to be 5-10 years ago when more people smoked and there wasn’t as much emphasis on good oral hygiene. 

And now with more people preventing teeth stain in the first place which you can do, people have less and less stain. 

What the polish actually does; 

It is an abrasive. So essentially it takes off a microscopic layer of the tooth surfaces every time we polish your pearly whites along with the surface stain on your teeth. 

The polish also takes off the very first layer of dental plaque – called the acquired pellicle. This acquired pellicle is extremely sticky and it acts as a magnet for other bacteria – attracting it to the tooth surface. But after cleaning, this layer starts forming within seconds… so is there any real point? You might as well just brush your teeth. 

When I will polish; 

  • If I have a patient who comes in and their oral hygiene is really bad and has lots of plaque and food debris on their teeth. Sometimes I even polish before I start the cleaning just so I am able to see the teeth better. 
  • The patient has surface stain that I was unable to remove in the cleaning. (I always try and remove the stain with my dental instruments because sometimes it is embedded in the tarter (calculus) and will not come off with polishing. 

When I will not polish; 

  • If you don’t have any surface stain or a lot of plaque, you should not get your teeth polished. Save your enamel!!! Seriously, once your enamel is gone… it is gone.
  • Your dental crowns/bridges and veneers should not be polished either, it can slowly take away the glazing layer and actually cause more stain on these surfaces over time. 
  • If you have receding gums, the abrasive nature of the polish can take away even more of the root surfaces because it is a lot softer. 
  • Moderate to severe gingivitis. If you have too much inflammation, I will not polish your teeth. I find the abrasives in the polish can get underneath the gumline and affect the healing after a dental cleaning. 
  • Thin tooth surfaces due to acid erosion (from lemon water, pop, fruit etc.). 

Over time, when your enamel gets too thin, the tooth layer underneath (dentin) will start to show through.

The dentin is yellow in colour. So if you keep eroding your white enamel away, the yellow dentin will show through, making your teeth appear yellow. 

Some dental offices see it as a money-making machine. 

Imagine – if you can charge around 35$ for every patient you polish, that quickly adds up!

I know of some dental offices that will just turn a blind eye and not explain what the polishing is actually doing to the patient’s teeth because it makes them money! They take advantage of the patient’s lack of knowledge for their own monetary gain. 

But is it really in your best interest? Maybe not. Don’t be afraid to ask your dental professional questions regarding your teeth.

The polishing has no effect on cavities and gum disease, it won’t improve your oral health. 

I would say that when I explain all the risks to my patients, about 70-80% of them will turn it down. I even have patients that will only want a few teeth polished instead of a full mouth polish. This is called a “selective polish”. 

I thought for years it was just a routine service, something that actually benefited my teeth. No one ever explained the risks to me until I learned them in dental hygiene school. 

As a dental hygienist, I will only polish my teeth maybe once a year. And I don’t get all my teeth polished either, only the ones that need it.

I do get some stain on the front surfaces of my bottom front teeth, so I may polish these 2 teeth every 6 months. 

Remember, you can always skip the polish! 

Holly 🙂

Holly Verran RDH

I am a Registered Dental Hygienist in Ontario, Canada. I hold registration and good standing with both the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario and the Canadian Dental Hygiene Association.

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