A dental hygienist checking on a patient in the dental office

What Dental Hygienists Do When Root Planing And Scaling Teeth | Colgate®

Every time your dental hygienist scales your teeth with that hook-like instrument, you’re one step closer to a healthy, beautiful smile.

Regularly scaling teeth above your gumline removes plaque and tartar that has built up since your last dentist visit. Then, after your dental hygienist polishes your teeth to remove stains, you might feel an extra boost of confidence in your smile.

Cleaning your teeth by scaling and polishing also serves a more serious purpose: helping prevent periodontal (gum) disease.

If gum disease develops, your hygienist will need to implement a deeper type of cleaning. Called scaling and root planing, this non-surgical procedure treats and -- if it's in the earlier stages -- hopefully reverses periodontal disease.

What is Periodontal Disease?

Did you know that healthy gum tissue fits tightly around each tooth? When bacterial plaque and tartar accumulate around and under the gums, they cause irritation and inflammation of the gum tissue. This causes pockets to form in between your gums and teeth.

In the early stages, gum disease is also known as gingivitis. Left untreated, gingivitis can turn into a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis. As periodontitis causes the gum tissue to detach from your teeth, the connective tissues and bone that support your teeth can also become affected. This can eventually lead to tooth loss.

That's when scaling and root planing comes into the picture.

What Is Scaling and Root Planing?

Scaling and root planing is an intensive deep-cleaning procedure designed to thoroughly scale all plaque, bacterial toxins, and tartar deposits from your teeth and root surfaces. Scaling and root planing is performed in two steps and might take more than one appointment to complete.

To minimize any discomfort, you might need a local anesthetic.

Step One: Scaling

Dental scaling dives deeper into the gumline with manual hand instruments, ultrasonic instruments, or both.

If your hygienist – or dentist – uses an ultrasonic scaling device, sonic vibrations will remove the plaque bacteria and tartar (calculus) from the tooth surface and underneath the gumline.

A manual dental scaler can do the same thing. Or it can supplement the ultrasonic device by removing particles the device can't break loose.

Step Two: Root Planing

Root planing involves an even deeper dive with detailed scaling of the root surface to smooth out rough areas.

Smooth root surfaces keep bacteria, plaque, and tartar from re-attaching underneath the gumline. Root planing decreases gum tissue inflammation, allowing your gums to heal and reattach themselves more firmly to your teeth.

If needed to prevent infection, your dentist might administer medicine directly into the area undergoing the procedure.

After your deep cleaning, you'll need to schedule a follow-up visit with your dentist.

What Should I Expect After the Procedure?

After a scaling and root planing procedure, you may experience some discomfort or mild pain when the anesthesia wears off. Your gums might be also be swollen and tender, and may bleed easily when you brush. The discomfort can continue for a couple of days afterwards, and you may also experience teeth sensitivity for about a week.

Your dentist might recommend painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications to help you manage any discomfort. Your dentist might also recommend an oral rinse and/or medication to prevent an infection.

Like most people, you will hopefully get the good news that inflamed gum tissue is once again firm and pink at your follow-up dentist visit. Other positive signs are that the bleeding has stopped and the pockets surrounding your gum tissue are smaller.

If all looks good, you might not need any further treatment. You can then set up periodic maintenance visits.

However, if the pockets have become deeper, additional treatment might be in order. Some advanced conditions might require periodontal surgery. Your scaling and root planing treatment, though, often means you'll need less intensive surgery.

How Can I Prevent Periodontal Disease?

Gum disease can develop without warning. It is essential to keep up with regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations so that your dentist or hygienist can spot the signs early on. A good home care routine is also vital in preventing gum disease from developing. Try the following steps:

  • Brush with a soft toothbrush and antibacterial fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day.
  • Replace your toothbrush when the bristles are worn.
  • Floss daily to clean between your teeth and bridges, crowns, or implants.
  • Use an antimicrobial mouthwash.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • If you use tobacco products, try to stop. (We know it isn't easy, but you can do it!) Whether you call it deep cleaning or scaling and root planing, this procedure is critical to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Follow the steps above and stick to those regular check-ups to keep showing off that healthy smile!