The recommendation from modern dental offices is to come in for a dental cleaning a few times per year, but patients often change and delay their appointments for one simple reason…it HURTS to have their teeth cleaned!

Many patients don’t actually LIKE having their teeth cleaned.

Even more of those patients don’t want to hear “bad news” from their dentist (all of them, actually). If you go to have your teeth cleaned and the dental hygienist only polishes your teeth “above the gums” without measuring your gums (and telling you the numbers), or without periodically taking a FULL series of xrays to check the bone (and showing you your xrays), or without cleaning anything BELOW the gums…you might “like” them because it’s easy, comfortable, and cheap. However, you WON’T like it years later when you find out you have Advanced Periodontal Disease.

This is what happened to a new patient I saw recently. A lovely lady close to my age who has never lost a tooth and hardly has any fillings in her teeth. She thought she was “doing enough” by going to a dentist in her neighborhood. They never took xrays, they never measured her gums, they never cleaned below her gums…and they never told her she had gum disease. For the last few years. Now this very nice person will lose several teeth immediately, including a front tooth, and likely many more (or all of them) over the next few years likely despite anything I can do to help her save them.

So…why does it have to hurt to clean my teeth?

The answer is…it really shouldn’t hurt, but there are a few reasons why it might.

1) Teeth sensitive to cold. Our dental offices use a water-and-vibration machine to clean under your gums. A fresh bottle of water is used for every patient, which means we can use warmer water for patients with sensitive teeth. We can also apply a special desensitizing toothpaste at the start of the appointment, and at the end a strong fluoride varnish can be applied to both decrease sensitivity between appointments AND protect the roots of your teeth from cavities.

2) Gums feel sore during cleaning. If Your gums feel sore during the cleaning…they are already infected! Some people experience this all over the mouth, and some only in specific areas. We can work with you to find out the cause of the gum infection. You may be missing that area with your toothbrush, you may have food stuck under the gums, or even an old filling or crown that no longer fits the tooth well and helps bacteria get stuck. Each of these problems has a different solution! We can also use gels on your gums to numb them a bit, which can make cleaning in certain areas more comfortable for you. If your gums bleed everywhere during your dental cleaning, you may need to improve your techniques for cleaning your teeth, so ask your hygienist exactly what to do. Keeping your mouth super clean at home is truly your best defense against pain in the hygiene chair, so for those of you who sheepishly say “I don’t floss” or “I have that Waterpik around somewhere” have to take the ultimate responsibility for keeping your gums healthy!

3) Teeth Sensitive to Touch by our instruments. If you’ve already had gum recession and bone loss, the root surfaces of your teeth may be exposed and sensitive to our cleaning tools. We can try the same type of desensitizing materials mentioned above, but if that doesn’t help we can always freeze the area so your appointment can be completely pain-free! Your dentist and dental hygienist should be able to work with you to find a solution for this problem.

Back to the patient in my earlier story…this was NOT related to lack of money for this patient. This was related to lack of information. PLEASE make sure that wherever you go for dental care you are well-informed. If you aren’t being shown what’s happening…go somewhere else. PLEASE make sure you GO for dental care regularly and DON’T be afraid to have xrays taken of every tooth in your mouth every 2-3 years at least. If someone like me had seen this patient 5+ years ago, she would likely not lose one single tooth from gum disease. And lastly, PLEASE get yourself into the chair of an experienced dental hygienist who will work with you to improve the health of your gums. Healthy gums=comfortable dental appointments=healthier body=great smiles!

Dr. Andrea Stevens is a cosmetic and family dentist in practice in Kanata, Ontario. If you have dental questions, you can call her at 613-271-7091 or visit her at Please also feel free to leave comments or questions below, and Dr. Stevens will be happy to answer.