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What is Root Planing and Scaling Teeth?

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

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 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 the way you present yourself.

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

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

What is Periodontal Disease?

Did you know that healthy gum tissue fits tightly around each tooth? So when bacterial plaque and tartar accumulate around and under the gums – causing inflammation – periodontal disease develops.

Also known as periodontitis, gum disease causes pockets to form in your gum tissue around your teeth. As the gum tissue detaches from your teeth, this could affect both your teeth and supporting bone in your mouth – perhaps even leading to tooth loss.

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

What Is Scaling and Root Planing?

A two-step procedure, the deep cleaning is known as scaling teeth, and root planing might take more than one appointment. To minimise any discomfort, you might need a local anaesthetic.

The goal is to thoroughly scale all plaque, bacterial toxins, and tartar deposits from your teeth and root surfaces.

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-adhering 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?

If you had local anaesthesia, you might have pain and anti-inflammation medicine on hand after the effect wears off. Or your dentist might prescribe pain medication and something to prevent infection. An oral rinse to aid in infection prevention might be in order.

The medicine and rinse can help you experience pain for a couple of days and teeth sensitivity for about a week. And your gums might be swollen, tender, and even bleed.

Most people 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 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 lessens the amount of surgery you need.

How Can I Prevent Periodontal Disease?

Gum disease can develop without warning. It is essential to follow through with regular dental check-ups and periodontal examinations. A good home care routine is vital in preventing gum disease from developing. You know what to do:

  • Brush with a soft toothbrush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Replace your toothbrush when the bristles are worn.
  • Floss daily to clean between your teeth and bridgework, crowns, or implants.
  • Use an antimicrobial mouthwash.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Don't smoke! Or stop using tobacco. (We know it isn't easy, but you can do it!)

Whether you call it deep cleaning – or scaling teeth and root planing – this procedure is critical to keep your teeth and gums healthy. And lets you show off that confident smile.