What is The Difference: Teeth Cleaning vs. Teeth Whitening

“Teeth whitening” and “teeth cleaning” are often misconstrued dental terminology whose meaning may cause confusion. They can be seen as interchangeable procedures and are often mistakenly referred to as the same.  

It is important to draw a distinction between the two dental procedures. The differences, though slight at first glance, make more sense as one dives deeper into the two dental hygiene procedures. It is really not as complex as it first seems. Both procedures help maintain healthy teeth, as well as whiten them.

Teeth Cleaning Procedures

Teeth cleaning procedures are essential in maintaining oral health and hygiene, and prevent tooth decay and cavities. Plaque and tartar buildup will affect the teeth and gums and can even lead to tooth loss. If left untreated, this bacteria buildup can lead to stomach infections and other health complications.

Teeth cleaning is done by dental professionals. Optimally, we all should visit the dentist every 6 months.  

Prophylaxis

This type of teeth cleaning procedure is the complicated way of saying a “routine” teeth cleaning. Your dental hygienist will gently scrape away excess plaque and tartar with scrapers and picks. This procedure should go smoothly if it is done every 6 months.  

Routine teeth cleaning should take less than an hour to complete. It is relatively simple, so there is usually no need for any anaesthetic or numbing agents. There might be some soreness in the gums and teeth, but the amount of discomfort is directly correlated by how much plaque and tartar buildup the dental hygienist needs to scrape off. Regular cleaning alleviates most of this discomfort.

Root Scaling - Planing 

Root scaling, or planing, is more often referred to as deep cleaning. This advanced form of teeth cleaning procedure is normally only called upon if there are signs of gum disease. Gum disease symptoms are swelling in the gums, soreness, and development of pockets in between the gums and the teeth. These symptoms are usually caused by lack of prophylactic, or normal, teeth cleaning. Be sure to visit your dentist regularly to avoid expensive visits, longer visits, pain, or even loss of teeth.

Your dentist will use planers to scrape below the gum line. This can be painful, so the use of a local anaesthetic is generally called upon to numb the local area of the gum. Advanced gum disease may call for several scaling, or deep, teeth cleaning procedures. They are not fun, can be expensive, as well as very painful.  Avoid deep cleaning by practising good oral hygiene.   

Teeth Whitening Procedures

One may notice that teeth may be slightly whiter after a good teeth cleaning.  Removing excess plaque and tartar whitens teeth, as both have a brown or yellowish colour to them that will stain the teeth if left unattended. This is where the aforementioned confusion between teeth cleaning and teeth whitening may occur. Teeth cleaning may lightly lift stains off the teeth, but major colour changes only occur when you are following teeth whitening procedures as well.

Regular 6 month teeth cleaning along with following basic dental hygiene rules are the minimum requirements needed for maintaining good oral hygiene. Many look for other ways in which to make their teeth even whiter. It is important to understand that teeth whitening procedures work best in tandem with teeth cleaning. Many choose to visit their dentist for cleaning just before trying a teeth whitening procedure.

In-House Teeth Whitening

In-house professional teeth whitening can result in much whiter teeth. Professionals use a myriad of different types of teeth whitening procedures. Popular methods are use of lasers, or very high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, to bleach or lighten the colour of the enamel layer on the teeth

Visiting dentists for teeth whitening procedures will be expensive and may take multiple visits for any noticeable results. Professional teeth whitening is good if there is a certain tooth, or area, which is badly stained and needs to be focused heavily to lift stains or colour. General teeth whitening can be done with a less expensive and more convenient procedure of teeth whitening.

At-Home Teeth Whitening Procedures

The last few years has seen an introduction of a multitude of effective at-home, do-it-yourself (DIY) teeth whitening kits.  

These at-home teeth whitening kits use hydrogen peroxide as the active bleaching agent to lift stains and colour from the enamel.  Here’s a great article on whether or not hydrogen peroxide is safe to use or not.  

Some teeth whitening kits work wonders, and can simply be incorporated into the daily brushing and flossing routine that one should already be following.  

Teeth whitening products are easy to use and should not be intimidating. Most come in the form of teeth whitening paste or polish, flossing wands, or mouthwashes. We went through an era of blue lights and mouth trays, but these have become unpopular in recent times, due to the messy aspect. More popular now are whitening strips, which are easy to apply and are discreet. One popular product we have found are the Bliss Dissolving Whitening Strips. These are all easy to use and come with instructions that should be strictly followed.

Finding safe and reliable teeth whitening products is a vital step when considering whether or not to try them. Here’s a great list of safe and effective DIY teeth whitening products.  

Conclusion

The confusion when considering teeth cleaning procedures and teeth whitening procedures stem from the fact that people substitute one for the other. Ideally, both procedures should be done regularly.  


Teeth cleaning should be done every 6 months at a dentist.  This routine cleaning will be a simple 30 minute procedure if one is brushing and flossing multiple times a day.  The goal of prophylactic, or a routine cleaning, is to remove plaque and tartar build up.


Teeth whitening procedures work best only if a good foundation of healthy oral hygiene is already in place.