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When Do My Teeth Need a Deep Cleaning?

If teeth deep cleaning conjures an image of your dental professional mining a substance in your lower oral depths, you wouldn't be too off base. Deep cleaning involves "mining" (i.e., removing) tartar and plaque – and cleaning the surfaces of your teeth roots.

Why would you need such a procedure? We'll let you know the why as well as the what and how of deep cleaning teeth.

Determining the Why with a Comprehensive Periodontal Evaluation

So, why would you be a candidate for a deep cleaning? That determination starts with your annual or semiannual Comprehensive Periodontal Evaluation (CPE). As recommended by the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), a CPE is a standard operating procedure in all thorough dental office checkups.

You've already experienced your dental professional using a probe to painlessly push down along the gum on both sides of each tooth. For each tooth, you've probably noticed them either calling out numbers for someone to record or silently entering the numbers into a laptop. Well, that, my friend, is part of the CPE calling for measuring the depth of the spaces – or periodontal pockets – between your teeth and gums.

Here are some things to know about periodontal pockets and deep cleaning:

  • You're exempt from a deep cleaning if you hear "one," "two," or "three" being called out during your CPE. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), a normal healthy pocket depth is usually three millimeters or less.
  • Deeper spaces, though, could indicate signs of gum disease. So, you might need a deep cleaning as recommended by your dentist.
  • You're more likely to undergo a deep cleaning if:
  • Deep cleanings are a good thing if you need them, as they let you avoid more drastic treatments for gum disease or tooth loss.

What's a Deep Cleaning?

During a regular dental cleaning (sometimes called scaling), your dental professional removes plaque and tartar from your teeth above and below the gumline. However, deep cleaning involves scaling and carefully cleaning your teeth's roots' surfaces (called root planing).

The common term for dental deep cleaning is scaling and root planing.

How Does Root Planing Work?

All the good things root planing does include:

  • Removing plaque and tartar from your root surfaces
  • Smoothing out the roots' rough spots where bacteria collect
  • Helping remove the bacteria contributing to gum disease
  • Giving the gums a smooth surface to reattach to your teeth, eliminating periodontal pockets

Root planing can take one to two hours over several visits with your dental professional. Here are some things to expect:

  • You'll typically receive a local anesthetic or numbing gel before the procedure begins.
  • If your dental pro received training to use a laser for root planing, that might be the preferred instrument to remove the plaque and tartar. A laser typically causes less bleeding, swelling, and discomfort than traditional deep cleaning methods.
  • Traditional dental instruments (scalers, ultrasonic cleaner, or both) do a thorough deep cleaning if a laser isn't available.
  • In some cases, deep cleaning also includes applying antimicrobials below the gumline to kill bacteria.

After Your Deep Cleaning

Be aware that you might experience soreness, tooth sensitivity, or bleeding for a few days after scaling and root planing.

Following your deep cleaning procedure, you'll want to take these actions:

Schedule a follow-up appointment to check how well your gums are healing and the depth of any periodontal pockets. If needed, your dentist might recommend additional anti-bacteria treatments.

Prevent the need for another deep cleaning by following these basic steps to prevent gum disease:

  • Brush twice daily with a fluoridated, antimicrobial toothpaste.
  • Clean between your teeth daily to remove plaque with floss or an interdental product.
  • Rinse daily with a mouthwash or mouth rinse designed to prevent plaque.
  • Limit sugary or starchy foods – and eat a healthy diet.
  • Avoid tobacco products.
  • Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups.

Even though deep cleaning is a relatively minor dental procedure, we hope you can avoid it with proper oral hygiene. But if you must undergo deep cleaning, know that it's for the best to remove plaque, tartar, and all bacteria from your teeth's root surfaces. And to get rid of periodontal pockets to keep your teeth and gums healthy!

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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