Tooth polishing, also known as coronal polishing, is the process of smoothing the exposed surface of the tooth with a slow-speed dental tool. Typical implements include the brush, air polisher, and rubber cup. A water unit may also be used. The process may remove a small amount of debris, but primarily involves polishing and smoothing the teeth. It is not the same thing as a dental cleaning.
The procedure is usually performed with a regular cleaning, though it is not considered to be a routine element of that process. The teeth are first scaled to remove hard plaque and tarter build-up. Then the exposed surfaces of the teeth are polished with the implement of choice until stains are no longer visible. As dangerous toxins can be released during this process, patients who have experienced rheumatic fever or who have heart disease are usually given antibiotics before the polishing begins.
Tooth polishing was once considered to be important preventative maintenance. It was performed along with regular procedures such as tooth scaling and root planing. Dentists thought that stain removal was an effective way to prevent new plaque from accumulating.
The process of tooth polishing was also once thought to be necessary preparation for other treatments. It was believed that stains on the teeth prevented the full absorption of fluoride treatments. Dental professionals also thought that polishing was an important prelude to applying sealant. In both instances, it has since been found that plaque removal through regular cleaning is the most effective preparation for these procedures.
Today, most dental professionals view tooth polishing as a cosmetic procedure. It is no longer believed to have a significant effect on dental health or in impeding the build-up of plaque. Studies have found that proper, regular brushing and flossing can provide the preventative benefits that were once attributed to tooth polishing.
Due to the change in perspective on tooth polishing, the American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA) has declared that it should only be performed by a dentist or licensed dental hygienist. These professionals should decide when the procedure is appropriate, rather than administering tooth polishing to every patient on a regular basis. Now tooth polishing is usually only performed on patients with especially heavy staining.
There are some non-cosmetic ways that tooth polishing is used in dentistry. It has proven to be helpful during periodontal surgery for root detoxification. Dentists have also used the process when working on orthodontic patients.