You may have seen dental scalers at the dentist's office, but you can use one at home, too.

©iStockphoto.com/Hightower_NRW

It never fails. Even if you brush every day, after every single meal, and floss like it's your job, your teeth still have to endure what seems like an inordinate amount of scraping once you're in the dentist's chair. This is in part because brushing -- even lots of it -- often isn't enough to prevent plaque and stains.

But that tray full of terrifying instruments commanding your full attention throughout your dental exam isn't there just to torture you (really). Your dental hygienist has this variety of tools with which to scrape, poke and prod at your teeth to help them in ways brushing can't, and at least one of those tools -- the dental scaler -- can be used at home in between visits, too.

A dental scaler is a hand-held device that has a metallic end shaped like a hook or curved blade. While it may look like a fancy, professional-grade instrument, a scaler can be purchased online or in most retail stores (often packaged with another oral care tool, such as a dental pick) for less than $10 [source: Walgreens]. Using a dental scaler may add some time onto your typical brush-and-floss routine, but it's also an effective way to keep your teeth free of plaque and stains -- if you use it correctly.

To make sure you're handling your dental scaler the right way, imagine the motion of scraping snow off the front step of a home -- you're using the long, flat edge of a shovel to scrape the surface clear. Similarly, you'll want to scrape the long edge of the scaler's blade along each tooth's surface, from just above or below the gum line toward the end of the tooth. Be sure to rinse the scaler after cleaning each tooth, as plaque and debris may accumulate on it.

While getting the motion right will take some getting used to, using a dental scaler can become a regular part of your oral-care routine, though it's not something you need to do daily. It does require caution and patience, however, and may not be right for everyone. Scraping too roughly could damage the enamel on your teeth or cut your gums. Speak with your dentist first if you're thinking about using a dental scaler at home, and check out the next page for lots more information about oral care.