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Why Your Dentist Suggests Debridement

Your body naturally produces plaque, the soft, sticky substance that coats your teeth. When plaque goes uncleaned or builds up along your teeth, it becomes tartar, also known as calculus, which is hard and requires a dental professional to remove. Both of these substances are typically addressed during your yearly dental checkups, leaving your teeth feeling completely clean. Unfortunately, if you've missed several checkups, those deposits can become so severe and stubborn that your dentist or dental hygienist must use a technique called debridement before starting your usual checkup.

If your dentist or dental hygienist has suggested the procedure, don't worry. It's necessary for your oral health and can help put you back on the road to healthy dental habits.

Why Debride? What is it?

The American Dental Association defines debridement as "Removal of subgingival and/or supragingival plaque and calculus which obstructs the ability to perform an evaluation." It's a lengthy definition, but it basically means that it happens before your regular checkup when a typical cleaning isn't enough to evaluate the health of your teeth.

A simple cleaning by a dental hygienist is usually enough to prepare your teeth for a routine checkup. But if your teeth have been neglected and buildup has obstructed the view, the dental hygienist will remove the tartar and plaque with an ultrasonic device and scaling tools during a longer appointment to clean your teeth before your checkup. This process isn't typically included in your appointment's cost and, because it takes more time, may require you to make one or more special appointments before your checkup.

The Process

Supragingival plaque is the plaque above your gums, while subgingival plaque is the harder-to-reach plaque below the surface of your gums. Removing both types of plaque requires more time than a regular dental cleaning. However, intensive debridement often requires the use of a special electronic tool that uses ultrasonic vibrations to break up calculus and remove plaque and food debris so it can be removed and cleaned away.

Your dental hygienist will use the ultrasonic device first to remove the calcified tartar (calculus) and plaque that attaches to it. They will then continue by fine scaling the teeth and root surfaces.

When done properly, the process allows your dentist to have a complete view of your teeth without dense plaque and tartar clouding the view. The dentist will check for dental caries, and the dental hygienist will be able to probe the gumline to check for bone loss and periodontal disease.


While it may take longer than a typical cleaning, and could require 1-4 follow-up appointments, debridement will likely only cause a little tenderness in your gums. If you're uncomfortable, you can ask your dentist about pain management during the procedure. Once completed, your checkup can proceed as usual, but you'll want to take special care to ensure that your teeth don't become coated in dense deposits again.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research warns that some individuals are more prone to plaque, tartar, and gum disease than others. Hence, it's even more important to follow good oral hygiene habits if you happen to be susceptible to calculus deposits.

Luckily, once your teeth are properly cleaned, you can work to maintain their debris-free status. Be sure to brush twice daily with a soft-bristled toothbrush to help maintain a tartar-free mouth. Cleaning the plaque between your teeth with daily flossing or other interdental cleanings can also keep deposits at bay in hard-to-reach areas.

By ensuring you attend all of your regular checkups, you can get rid of the excess plaque and tartar so your dentist and dental hygienist can continue to provide you with great care for a beautiful white smile.

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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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