Mary has a hectic day ahead of her. After getting the kids ready and dropping them off at school, she has to run errands all over town. She does have a small half hour window in her day, though, for something she’s been putting off for a long time now—a cleaning appointment at the dentist. Mary calls, tells them when she’s available and is angry when they turn her down with the statement “a cleaning appointment can’t be completed in half an hour.” Why not? Why does it take any longer than that?

Why Do Teeth Cleanings Take a Long Time? 

Teeth cleanings have a system that can involve several things that your dentist or the hygienist must do.  If it has been quite some time since dental x-rays have been taken of your teeth, the hygienist will take some current ones during the appointment, which takes a little time. The x-rays will highlight any problem areas your dentist should be aware of. Once the x-rays have been completed, the hygienist will start cleaning your teeth. It is this part that usually takes the longest. When the hygienist cleans your teeth, he or she will be removing all the plaque buildup between your gum line and teeth. This is where your good or bad oral habits will be noticed. Everyone builds up plaque around their teeth when they eat throughout the day. If this plaque isn’t brushed off your teeth each night, it will slowly build up.

A Buildup of Plaque Makes Cleanings Longer

There are several things that contribute to plaque buildup. The makeup of your saliva, the bacteria living in your mouth, the medications you take (if any), and how effective your oral habits are at home all come into play. If you have poor brushing habits, you will have a high buildup of plaque, which will take the hygienist longer to get rid, but if you brush every night, you will have little plaque to remove. On the best of days, you’re guaranteed to be at your appointment for a while as the hygienist needs to make her way around at least 32 teeth. If they don’t finish the job, you may be coming back for round two. Let’s be honest here. If your brushing habits have been ignored lately, you’re going to be holding your mouth open for a while. Some individuals have buildup on their teeth called calculus that is quite stubborn to remove. Individuals build differing quality of calculus depending on the chemical balance of their saliva. It can appear along your gum line and the gums in between your teeth, causing a rough, hard surface on your tooth. If it isn’t brushed off and is added to instead, it becomes more tenacious. If your teeth are surrounded by stubborn calculus that’s hard to remove, the hygienist needs to spend extra time getting that build up off your teeth. Although it may make your cleaning appointment longer, it’s important that hygienists are thorough. If this build up isn’t removed, it can contribute to periodontal disease, tooth decay, and a loss of bone mass that holds in your teeth.

Related: Spring Into a New Dental Cleaning Routine

What Else Happens During Teeth Cleanings?  

Once your teeth have been thoroughly cleaned, all that’s left to do is put on the finishing touches. A polishing paste will be used to give you a radiant looking smile, and then the hygienist will floss between your teeth to remove any remaining food particles. After that’s done, you are good to go! Cleaning appointments all depend on the state of your oral health and how well you take care of your pearly whites. When you are diligent with your oral hygiene duties, your cleaning appointment will be shorter, but will still take longer than half an hour. If you forget to brush and floss most of the time, they may want you to come back for a second appointment to finish the cleaning.