Have you ever had a painful visit to the dentist, even though it didn’t involve anything more than an exam and a cleaning?
Is it normal to have sensitivity after a cleaning? What happens if it’s more than that, and your teeth actually hurt afterward?
We asked dentists we know when a patient should be concerned after having their teeth cleaned. Here’s what they had to say:
Dental “cleanings” is a general term that is really not accurate. For normal, healthy patients, the term “prophylaxis” is used for cleaning the teeth above the gum line and may just slightly below the gum line without intention debridement of the gum tissue. During a prophylaxis, tartar and superficial stain from foodstuff, tea, coffee, etc., is removed, and the enamel, fillings, and restorations are polished to minimize the ability of plaque to adhere to the teeth. In healthy mouths, this procedure should not be painful, and there should be very little if any, post-op sensitivity.
If there is heavy build-up of tartar and stain, then the hygienist may have to put more effort and increased pressure to clean the teeth surfaces. This might create some mild post-op sensitivity and discomfort for a day or two. This typically would not have any reflection on the hygienist’s skill or quality of care but rather on the health of the patient’s mouth. This type of discomfort usually can be managed by a day or two of over-the-counter headache medications if necessary and by eating a soft diet for a day or two to minimize trauma from chewing.
Lastly, sometimes gum disease with inflammation is necessary to treat with a “cleaning.” This could be several quadrants of the mouth at one time or only localized teeth that are involved. Sometimes, those areas are so sensitive that numbing is required to perform this type of “cleaning,” which is properly called scaling and root planing. This involves going down deep around the teeth and scraping diseased build-up off root surfaces and even debriding diseased gum tissue. This type of cleaning can result in more post-op sensitivity than the other types but typically does not need more care than over-the-counter headache medication and a soft diet for a few days.
In general, healthy teeth and gums do not bleed and do not result in sensitivity after cleaning. However, sometimes therapeutic intervention is needed, which can be mildly uncomfortable. In any case, if you experience pain or discomfort after a cleaning, it is never inappropriate to call your dentist about it with any questions and so that he or she can make sure there is not a more serious problem that needs further treatment.
Usually, there will only be mild discomfort for a day or two following a cleaning. If your gums are swollen and bleed easily there may be moderate discomfort. Taking 400mg Advil and rinsing with warm salt water should provide relief. If you have root surfaces that are exposed you may have more sensitivity to cold than normal for you or you could have some aching. Using toothpaste for sensitive teeth as well as staying away from any whitening toothpaste or whitening products. Avoiding acidic foods for a while as well as very hot or very cold products may help. Usually, in these more extreme sensitive cases, it may take a week or two to get back to normal.
However, if one tooth is extremely sensitive and getting worse it may be that the tooth has a problem such as a leaky filling or a bad nerve. There are times where a tooth has a problem but it can’t be seen in the mouth or on an x-ray yet and it hasn’t had symptoms until after a cleaning. This truly is a coincidence and we should not ignore it. Please call if any sensitivity seems abnormal or doesn’t go away within two weeks.
The health of the patient’s mouth appears to be the biggest factor in whether or not they experience pain after a routine visit to the dentist.
Some mild discomfort can be expected for those who require more treatment for potential gum issues, but if you experience pain or sensitivity that seems significant, it’s always a good idea to check with your dentist to make sure the pain isn’t a sign of an additional problem. Your dentist is the best authority on whether or not your teeth are healthy, or if the sensitivity you’re experiencing might be something to look into.
Minimize mouth pain by maintaining good oral hygiene, and be sure you’re seeing a dentist regularly to stay healthy.
If you’re looking for a dentist, be sure to consult our directory to read reviews for dentists near you!