During a checkup visit, you sometimes will see two professionals — your dentist and the dental hygienist if the office has a hygienist on staff. The hygienist typically will check your gums and teeth, clean and polish your teeth, and talk to you about caring for your teeth and gums properly at home. Your dentist also may do a clinical examination, diagnose problems and recommend treatments. Here’s what to expect:

Cleaning

The purpose of a professional dental cleaning is to remove the hard calculus (also called tartar) from above and just below the gum line. Brushing and flossing at home removes plaque. Only dental instruments can remove calculus. Some dental hygienists use ultrasonic instruments to blast away the larger chunks of tartar. They follow up with hand instruments to thoroughly clean the teeth. Other hygienists use only hand instruments.

Polishing

After the calculus is removed, the crowns of your teeth (the parts that show) may be polished to remove plaque and surface stains. Typically, but not always, an abrasive substance is applied to the teeth with a small rotating rubber cup or brush. This helps to scrub away stains. The polishing substance will feel gritty in your mouth. You will be given chances to rinse.

Prevention

The hygienist may offer instructions for oral care at home based on the results of the exam. He or she may demonstrate how to brush and floss properly.

X-rays

X-rays may or may not be taken during your checkup. Some people may be able to go as long as two years between X-rays. Others may need them every few months. Your dentist will consider the results of your clinical examination, your dental history and your individual risk for developing cavities. Then he or she will decide if you need X-rays during your check-up visit. If you are seeing a new dentist for the first time, ask for a copy of your X-rays from your former dentist. This will help you to avoid repeating X-rays.

Treatment recommendations

If your dentist finds any problems, he or she will recommend steps to fix them. These may include a referral to a specialist (such as a periodontist or orthodontist). You also may need further tests for diagnosis. You may have to return to the dentist for a filling or more intensive periodontal treatment.