BACKGROUND Practice-based general dental practitioners routinely provide "scale and polish" or "oral prophylaxis" to patients attending their practices. Despite its routine provision, there is no evidence to support the clinical effectiveness of single-visit scale and polish, nor the frequency at which it should be provided. A recent systematic review recommended that future trials investigating scale and polish should involve dental practice patients. METHODS A practice-based parallel randomised controlled trial with 24-month follow-up was conducted. Healthy adults (Basic Periodontal Examination [BPE] codes <3) were randomly assigned to 3 groups (6-month, 12-month, or 24-month interval between scale and polish). The primary outcome was gingival bleeding with the hypothesis that 6-monthly scale and polish would result in lower prevalence than 12-month or 24-month frequency. Follow-up measurements were recorded by examiners blinded to the allocation. 125, 122 and 122 participants were randomised to the 6-month, 12-month and 24-month groups respectively. Complete data set analyses were conducted for 307 participants: 107, 100, and 100 in the 6-month, 12-month and 24-month groups respectively. Chi-square test and ANOVA were used to compare treatment groups at follow-up. Logistic regression and ANCOVA were used to estimate the relationship between outcome and treatment group, adjusted for baseline values. Multiple imputation analyses were also carried out for participants with incomplete data sets. RESULTS Prevalence of gingival bleeding at follow-up was 78.5% (6-month), 78% (12-month) and 82% (24-month) (p = 0.746). There were no statistically significant differences between groups with respect to follow-up prevalence of plaque and calculus. Statistically significant differences detected in the amount (millimetres) of calculus were too small to be clinically significant. Seventeen (4.6%) participants were withdrawn from the trial to receive additional treatment. CONCLUSIONS This trial could not identify any differences in outcomes for single-visit scale and polish provided at 6, 12 and 24 month frequencies for healthy patients (with no significant periodontal disease). However, this is the first trial of scale and polish which has been conducted in a general practice setting and the results are not conclusive. Larger trials with more comprehensive measurement and long-term follow up need to be undertaken to provide a firm evidence base for this intervention. This trial informs the design of future practice-based trials on this subject.