What Does the Hygienist Actually Do in Your Mouth at a Cleaning?

A Dental Hygiene Visit: What You Need to Know

Many people dread visiting the dentist, even if it’s just for routine cleaning. Strange noises, prodding and poking, and occasional jaw discomfort make it easy to understand why. For most patients, a dental cleaning in Chico is a painless, straightforward process, and the dental hygienist cleaning your teeth has an important job. 

If you are preparing for your first dental cleaning, understanding the hygienist’s job and its importance can help ease any anxiety related to your upcoming visit. After all, a hygienist does more than give you minty fresh breath. 

What is a dental hygienist? 

A dental hygienist is a licensed dental professional. Although a hygienist can work in several places in the dental industry, working in a dental office to help patients maintain good dental hygiene and oral health is the most common. Their primary goal is to prevent and treat common oral conditions like tooth decay and periodontal issues.

 Daily tasks related to a hygienist’s job include:

  • Collecting medical histories
  • Cleaning and examining teeth and gums
  • Taking X-rays
  • Educating patients on oral care 

Daily responsibilities vary between dental offices and state to state, as every state has its own regulations. 

What does a hygienist cleaning your teeth complete during your appointment? 

A tooth cleaning appointment is a relatively simple procedure with a few steps.

Oral Evaluation 

The first part of a dental cleaning is typically an exam. The hygienist inspects your oral cavity with a mirror, looking for signs of gingivitis or cavities. 

Some conditions are asymptomatic, or you don’t recognize them as gum disease or tooth decay symptoms. The hygienist also measures the depth of periodontal pockets. This area is the space that forms between the teeth and gums due to untreated gum disease

If they notice any significant problems, the dental hygienist might call the dentist into the treatment room to ensure it’s safe to proceed. 

Removal of Plaque and Tartar 

Although brushing and flossing prevent plaque from turning into tartar, you still need a cleaning from a professional dental hygienist to ensure the removal of any accumulation below your gum line. You’ll hear scraping noises from the metal instruments used to clean your teeth, but this is normal. 

Some of the instruments used during a routine cleaning appointment include: 

  • Mouth mirror 
  • Scaler 
  • Perio probe 
  • Curette 
  • Ultrasonic scaler 
  • Saliva ejector 
  • Intraoral camera 

By using these instruments to remove buildup from your teeth, the hygienist helps you prevent bad breath, tooth decay, and gingivitis. Removing plaque impacts your mouth and can also help prevent other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. 

Deep Cleaning and Polish 

After removing the buildup from your teeth, the hygienist uses a high-powered electric tooth polisher with a small cup attachment to remove anything the scaler left behind. 

They’ll use a special polishing paste with a gritty consistency during this step. Its abrasiveness gently scrubs your teeth to remove lingering debris and stain. 


Flossing daily at home is vital to your oral health routine. But nothing beats professional flossing by a trained hygienist. They use the proper flossing method to get deep between your teeth into spots where your gums might bleed. 

The proper flossing technique begins by using 18 inches of floss, with most of it wrapped around the middle fingers. About one to two inches should be available to work with. 

Floss should be held tightly between the thumb and index finger and gently slid between the teeth. Your hygienist will get close to the gumline by curving the floss around the tooth, like a C-shape. This step lets the hygienist remove any excess plaque or  polishing paste left behind. 

Fluoride Treatment 

The hygienist may offer a fluoride treatment as the last step of the cleaning process. Fluoride is a mineral that protects your teeth and helps fight against tooth decay. But that’s not all. “Nature’s Cavity Fighter” is also anti-microbial, meaning it can kill the bacteria in your mouth that cause gum disease. 

Some dental offices have a variety of flavors, so the hygienist may ask you to choose your favorite. They’ll take a concentrated fluoride product in the form of a foam or gel and place it into a tray that fits over your teeth. 

Typically, it sits on your teeth for one minute. Some dental offices don’t use foam or gel. Instead, they use a fluoride varnish painted directly onto the teeth using a small brush. It’s a different technique, but it provides the same essential mineral. 

Protect your smile with a dental cleaning in Chico, CA. 

Visiting a dental hygienist for a routine cleaning is essential to maintaining healthy teeth. Unfortunately, cleanings are easy to forget about or postpone. If it’s time for your dental hygiene appointment, get in touch today. Call My Chico Dentist, and our team will schedule your appointment and help you get back on track with your oral health.

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Call 530-893-8913 or request an appointment online to set up your first visit. We’ll be in touch soon.