Teeth hurt after cleaning? How to know you're alright

Your dentist appointment just wrapped up and you realize as you're walking out the door, "my teeth kinda hurt." Read on for what it means.

There's nothing quite like a professional dental cleaning. You emerge from the chair with a rejuvenated mouth. It's not just the lingering flavor of the products your hygienist used, the entire environment of your mouth is different.

Yep, that squeaky clean feeling is what your teeth feel like when all the bacteria is removed. All that bacteria is super sticky so it takes finesse and focus to remove it. The result might be that your teeth or gums feel a little sore after the cleaning. 

Pain after dental cleaning and what it means 

After your cleaning, your teeth will definitely feel different. Your hygienist just removed months of bacterial buildup, and your teeth now feel super smooth. But some people experience something else - a bit of discomfort or even soreness afterward.

"A professional cleaning is more than just brushing your teeth on steroids," shares Wally hygienist, Sarah Clark RDH. "A great cleaning gets rid of plaque and tartar buildup that your toothbrush can't remove. Plaque and tartar are the accumulation of bacteria in your mouth, which means less bacteria load in your mouth after a cleaning."

You may feel discomfort in:

  • Your teeth or
  • Your gums 

Even if you never miss a brush, floss and waterpik, you might experience some soreness after your cleaning. Similar to getting a deep tissue massage where your muscles feel sore afterward, your teeth and gums might feel sore after a cleaning. 

Your hygienist is doing a thorough cleaning and reaching places that cleverly hide from your toothbrush, floss, and even waterpik. Bacteria builds up in those places and irritates your gums, making your gums more tender and sensitive to the cleaning.

And if you have sensitive teeth or gum disease (early stage or late stage), that sore feeling might be pretty intense. The good news is there are steps you can take before your visit and things you can ask your hygienist to make your cleaning (and apres-clean) as comfortable as possible.

Tooth pain after cleaning and how to reduce it

If your enamel is healthy, any sensitivity you feel on your teeth will go away after a few hours or a few days. 

Tooth sensitivity happens when your dentin, the sensitive yellow layer below your enamel, is exposed. When anything comes into contact with your tooth, like cold beverages or sugary foods, cause sensitivity. That includes dental tools used to clean your teeth. 

But if your teeth are sensitive, that doesn't mean you need to suffer through your cleaning! There are steps you can take leading up to your appointment to help reduce the sensitivity, and there are a few ways your hygienist can help reduce sensitivity during your cleaning.

  • Before your cleaning - Brush twice per day with a remineralizing toothpaste. These toothpastes help remineralize your enamel and close up microscopic holes where acids have eroded the calcium and phosphorus that make your enamel strong. Maintaining a consistent routine with your toothpaste helps your teeth replenish those lost minerals and reduce the sensitivity.
  • During your cleaning - Tell your hygienist that you have sensitive teeth! They will take steps like using a pre-polish with desensitizing paste (like a topical anesthetic), and use warmer water when scaling (aka cleaning) your teeth.

Don't be shy about asking your Wally hygienist to help make your cleaning more pleasant for you. "Seriously, it makes me so happy when my patients tell me about their tooth sensitivity. You don't want to suffer, and I don't want to feel like I'm torturing you!" Sarah.

Sore gums after dental cleaning

Even the most earnest flossers with healthy gums can experience soreness after cleaning. Your teeth have lots of contours, especially around the gum line, which means your hygienist will always find little pockets of bacteria to clean away around the gum line. 

Bacterial buildup at the base of your teeth can inflame and irritate your gums, making them tender. And tender gums are more sensitive to professional cleaning equipment. The good news is the soreness or any bleeding from your cleaning will go away shortly.

If you have gingivitis (early-stage gum disease) there is a good chance your gums will experience a little bleeding and soreness after a professional cleaning. When bacteria buildup around the gum line and cause an infection that irritates your gums and makes them red, swell, and bleed… that's gingivitis.

Your hygienist will inform you if you have gingivitis and will take extra care around your gums to (gently) clean away all the bacteria buildup. If you find out you have gingivitis, don't stress! It's reversible with a professional cleaning followed by good oral hygiene at home

Your cleaning will have to wait if you have gum disease

However, if you have later-stage gum disease called periodontitis, your hygienist will not perform a regular cleaning on you. "When you have periodontitis, bacteria has spread its way deep under the gums and causes infections in the gums and bones, destroying the tissues that support your teeth," explains Kevin Walker, DDS. "If that's the case, a regular cleaning won't reach far enough to clean out the infected area and you'll need to get periodontal therapy." 

Periodontal therapy is expensive (full-mouth periodontal therapy will set you back more than $1,000 in NYC) and uncomfortable. Plus periodontitis is a lifelong condition that you can never reverse. The way to avoid gum disease is regular professional cleanings paired with an at-home oral hygiene routine customized to your mouth's risk factors.

Ready to take your gum health to the next level and prevent periodontitis? Check out our free guide on how you can keep you gums healthy in the short- and long-term.

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