Hate Teeth Cleanings? 8 Ways to Make Cleanings Less Painful

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Hi, I’m Dr. B, practicing functional dentist for 35 years. I graduated from the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, CA in 1987 and am a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), Academy of General Dentistry (Chicago, IL), American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), and Dental Board of California. I'm on a mission to empower people everywhere with the same evidence-based, easy-to-understand dental health advice that my patients get. Learn more about Dr. B

If you can’t stand having your teeth cleaned, you’re not alone. I used to hate getting my teeth cleaned. They hurt like hell. As a kid, I would try to trick my parents into forgetting about scheduled cleanings.

But now, as a dentist, I realize that the best way I could have avoided the pain was to have more frequent, not less frequent, teeth cleanings. Counterintuitive? Yes.

But the more frequently you go, the less there is to clean, making it less invasive.

If you wait too long in between visits, your immune system responds to the buildup on your teeth, making the gums more sensitive to the touch.

It’s like pulling a band-aid off of a wound. The skin underneath is extra sensitive since it’s used to being covered and protected.

Cleanings are more painful when you postpone them because debris has had more time to build up above and especially below the gum line — meaning there’s more work to do, and the buildup is harder to reach.

If you haven’t had a teeth cleaning in a while, below are some tips to make it less painful. Even if you go infrequently, these tips will help make your next teeth cleaning hurt less.

8 Tips to Make Your Next Teeth Cleaning Hurt Less

1. Take Advil before and after. This can help with pain both during and after the cleaning. Consider taking about 600 to 800mg one hour before the cleaning and then again six hours after the cleaning. This reduces the inflammatory reaction.

2. Get numb. Ask the hygienist to get you numb for the cleaning, just as you would get numb for a filling. In my office, we Q-tip some topical anesthesia onto the area we’re cleaning, which works well for lots of people.

3. Use a desensitizing toothpaste. Switch to a desensitizing toothpaste like Sensodyne Pro Enamel. Make this your new daily toothpaste.

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4. Prevent gum recession. Gum recession is when the gum moves down from the tooth a little, exposing the more sensitive, lower part of the tooth. This makes your teeth more sensitive to not only cleanings but to your favorite foods too. When there’s inflammation in your gums and your gums heal, they recede. The more cycles you go through of inflammation and healing, the more gum recession you’re going to have.

5. Level up your oral hygiene. Brush and floss after meals. Scrape your tongue. Sounds simple, but the better your oral hygiene is, the easier teeth cleanings are. When you’re not in the habit of flossing, teeth cleanings are going to be painful. Flossing does 40% of the job in cleaning plaque off your teeth, so skipping it will make it so there’s a lot more for the hygienist to clean. If you hate flossing, try using a flossing stick.

6. Don’t over-brush. Most of us are brushing our teeth way too hard, damaging our teeth and making them sensitive. Brushing with the wrong motion makes your teeth more porous, and thus more sensitive. Double check that you’re brushing properly to make sure you’re not making your teeth more sensitive every time you brush.

7. Use an electric toothbrush. An electric toothbrush can help you brush more gently because the toothbrush does the work for you. If you tend to over-brush, switching to an electric toothbrush can help. Electric toothbrushes are also better at cleaning below the gum line, which can make it so there’s less for the hygienist to scrape there.

8. Get the right hygienist. Find someone who is willing to work with you. You don’t want the hygienist to be too light and not get the job done. But there is such a thing as overdoing it and being too rough, causing unnecessary discomfort.

I hope these tips help make your next teeth cleaning a little less painful.

Mark Burhenne DDS

Got more questions about teeth cleanings? Ask me a question!

Learn More: How Often Should I Go to the Dentist for a Teeth Cleaning?