Treating Periodontal Disease: Scaling and Root Planing

Periodontal disease is often painless, and you may not be aware that you have a problem until your gums and the supporting bone are seriously damaged. The good news is that periodontal diseases often can be treated in the early stages with scaling and root planing.

During a checkup, the dentist examines your gums for periodontal problems. An instrument called a periodontal probe is used to gently measure the depth of the spaces between your teeth and gums.

At the edge of the gumline, healthy gum tissue forms a very shallow, V-shaped groove (called the sulcus) between the tooth and gums The normal sulcus depth should be 3 millimeters or less. With periodontal diseases, the sulcus develops into a deeper pocket that collects more plaque bacteria and is difficult to keep clean.

If periodontal disease is diagnosed, your dentist may provide treatment or you may be referred to a periodontist, a dentist who specializes in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of periodontal diseases. Treatment often depends on how far the condition has progressed and how well your body responds to therapy.

Scaling and root planing is a method of treating periodontal disease when pockets are greater than 3 mm. Scaling is used to remove plaque and tartar beneath the gumline. A local anesthetic may be given to reduce any discomfort.

Using an instrument called a small scaler or an ultrasonic cleaner, the dentist carefully removes plaque and tartar down to the bottom of each periodontal pocket. The tooth's root surfaces then are smoothed or planed. This allows the gum tissue to heal. It also makes it more difficult for plaque to accumulate along the root surfaces.

Your dentist may recommend, prescribe and administer medications to help control infection and pain or to facilitate healing. At a follow-up appointment, the dentist checks how the gums have healed and how the periodontal pockets have decreased. When pockets greater than 3 mm persist after treatment, additional measures may be needed.

You'll be given instructions on how to care for your healing teeth and gums. Maintaining good oral hygiene and continued, sometimes lifelong, follow-up by your dentist are essential to help prevent periodontal disease from becoming more serious or recurring.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

© American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

More articles about gum disease

The simple way to help prevent gum disease

Gum disease is caused when bacteria (plaque) are not removed by daily brushing and flossing, luckily it’s preventable. Try one of our toothpastes designed to reduce plaque regrowth and help prevent the occurrence of gum disease.