Dental prophylaxis (professional cleaning) removes plaque, tartar (calculus), and stains from your teeth. This procedure can only be performed by a dentist or a dental hygienist. A hygienist is a licensed dental professional whose job is to perform prophylaxis and to provide education in the proper care of teeth and gums.
Plaque is a sticky film that is constantly forming on all surfaces of your teeth. Composed of bacteria, bacterial by-products and salvia, plaque can build up along the gumline, between teeth and in other hard-to-reach areas to form tartar, which can only be removed through a professional cleaning. Plaque bacteria use sugar and other carbohydrates to grow and form acids attacking the enamel to cause cavities. These bacteria produce toxins that can irritate the gums, causing them to turn red, swell and bleed—the signs typically associated with gingivitis (gum disease). Although gingivitis IS reversible, if ignored or left untreated, it can progress to a more advanced stage of gum disease called periodontitis. We cannot say this enough: Brushing and flossing your teeth—or cleaning with another type of interdental cleaner—to remove plaque is essential in the fight for healthy teeth and gums.
Minerals in saliva combine with plaque at the tooth surface and harden into rough, unsightly deposits called tartar (calculus). Made up primarily of minerals, tartar creates a rough surface that makes thorough plaque removal exceptionally difficult. In fact, your toothbrush and floss cannot remove tartar once it has formed; tartar can only be removed through a professional dental cleaning (prophylaxis).
The most effective way to maximize your efforts to improve and maintain good oral hygiene is to make plaque and tartar control part of your daily routine. Proper brushing helps remove plaque from the outer, inner and chewing surfaces of your teeth. In addition to proper brushing, thorough flossing helps remove plaque and debris from between the teeth, especially in the hard-to-reach areas at and slightly under the gumline. The proper techniques for brushing and flossing are outlined in the following section.