Teeth Cleaning vs. Teeth Whitening – What’s the Difference?


It’s easy to confuse teeth cleaning with teeth whitening, or vice versa.
Tooth cleaning is the removal of tartar and plaque from teeth to prevent decay, and is necessary to keep gums and teeth healthy. Tooth whitening is a cosmetic procedure used to remove stains from the surface of the teeth.
Both procedures offer benefits, but which is best for you? Your dentist makes that determination based on your oral health needs.
Let’s explore both procedures to understand how they differ.

Difference Between Teeth Cleaning and Teeth Whitening

Keep reading to discover how teeth cleaning and teeth whitening differ.

Teeth Cleaning

Brushing and flossing is recommended for good oral health.
However, even if you follow these necessary steps, there’s a possibility you’re eating and drinking habits will lead to the accumulation of plaque and tartar. This will require removal by a certified professional.
Most dentists recommend having teeth cleaned every six months to avoid periodontal diseases from tartar build-up. But many of us dread the prospect as we expect painful prodding at our gums and teeth.
But teeth cleanings are actually painless, simple and effective. By knowing exactly what will happen, you can ease some of your stress and enjoy great oral health.

1. Physical Exam

First, your mouth is examined by a hygienist for signs of gum disease and other conditions. They might use a few tools to check behind your teeth for potential problems. If any major issues are detected, they may call a dentist to get permission to proceed further.

2. Removal of Plaque and Tartar

Assisted by a small mirror, the hygienist will get rid of plaque and tartar built up around the gum line and between your teeth with a scaler. You may hear a slight scraping noise; this is completely normal. Obviously the more tartar you have, the more they may need to scrape in that particular spot.

3. Cleaning with a Gritty Toothpaste

Once the tartar has been removed, your teeth will be cleaned using a high-powered electric brush which will likely produce a grinding noise. Although it may sound scary, it’s a good way to deep clean your teeth and get rid of any tartar the scraper missed. Your hygienist will use a toothpaste that generally tastes and smells like normal ones but has a gritty texture that is good at scrubbing teeth.

4. Proper Flossing

Once the brushing is complete, your hygienist will floss your teeth to clean areas both the scraping and brushing missed. While doing so, they will be able to pick out potential bothersome spots which may be causing bleeding.

5. Rinsing

Next, you will be asked to rinse your mouth to get rid of any toothpaste or debris that may be stuck between your teeth.

6. Fluoride Treatment

The final step requires the application of a fluoride treatment that acts as a protective layer and helps fight against cavities for the next few months.
Your hygienist may use a mouthpiece where a gel is applied. They will ask you to bite the mouthpiece and hold it between your teeth for a minute or so. After this, they may also paint a varnish onto your teeth using a small brush. The material will harden when it comes in contact with saliva, so you can drink and eat immediately after the procedure.

Teeth Whitening

Our teeth become pale yellow or grey over time as enamel thins to reveal the less-white layer of dentin present beneath it. Additionally, the foods and drinks we consume regularly, such as wine and coffee, can stain our teeth.
This is when teeth whitening are recommended. It is a cosmetic dental procedure that lightens and brightens teeth. It involves a bleaching agent that removes surface stains, usually in a single session. You can whiten them at home or go to your dentist.
Here are how both the procedures differ.

1. In-Chair Teeth Whitening

In-chair whitening services generally use a high-strength peroxide activated using an LED light which speeds up the whitening process.
For those who have undergone dental work and might have gum or teeth-related problems, it’s recommended that you have a certified dentist perform the whitening. This is vital as the tooth’s enamel structure generally changes during the procedure. It can complicate treatments performed in the future and only a trained dentist will be able to work around this.
Many specialty clinics offer in-chair whitening treatments but may use a lower-strength peroxide. Keep in mind: the stronger the peroxide, the more likely it is patients will experience sensitivity after the procedure. Talk to your dentist about which solution they will be using to understand the consequences. In some instances, dentists use a gentle peroxide paired with a catalyst that offers good results without being followed by increased sensitivity. However, the gel may have to be applied twice during the session to maximize its effectiveness.

2. At-Home Teeth Whitening Kits

At-home kits allow you to whiten your teeth from the comfort of home. They are convenient to use and typically cost less than in-chair treatments.
As these products contain a much lower concentration of bleaching agent than what dentists use, you should start noticing a difference within one or two weeks. If you prefer whitening your teeth at home, your dentist can provide an at-home teeth whitening kit with a higher concentrated gel along with a tray custom made for you. Alternatively, you can buy drugstore kits but they lack the strength of professional-grade ones.
Teeth cleaning maintains the health of your gums and teeth whereas teeth whitening is a cosmetic procedure that improves your smile. Whitening is optional, but cleanings are necessary to maintain your overall oral health. Whether you’re looking to have your teeth whitened or cleaned, get in touch with a dentist near you. They can assess your overall oral health and recommend the procedure that best serves your needs.