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What Dental Hygienists Do When Root Planing and Scaling Teeth

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If your dental hygienist cleans your teeth every six months or so, you know that a routine professional cleaning involves scaling teeth and the gumline to remove plaque and tartar, and polishing to remove stains and smooth the tooth's surface. This is done to keep your teeth and gums healthy. If you have symptoms of gum disease, however, you may need another type of cleaning, called scaling and root planing.

When Is Scaling and Root Planing Recommended?

Whereas routine cleanings are done to prevent periodontal (gum) disease, scaling and root planing is a non-surgical procedure done to treat periodontal disease. In fact, this procedure – sometimes called a deep cleaning – is considered the "gold standard" of treatment for patients with chronic periodontitis.

Healthy gum tissue fits tightly around each tooth, and the measurement from the top of the gumline to where it attaches to the tooth should only be 1 to 3 millimetres in depth. When germ-infested plaque and tartar accumulate around and under the gums, however, the tissues that support your teeth may be affected and periodontal disease can develop, causing deeper pockets to form.

When you have more advanced signs of gum disease (bad breath, heavy tartar build-up and unhealthy pocket depths of 4mm or more), your dentist may recommend scaling and root planing as the first procedure necessary to treat the condition.

Like a Splinter From a Finger

Scaling and root planing teeth, provided by either your dentist or dental hygienist, may take more than one appointment to complete, and a local anaesthetic is often used to minimise any discomfort. Periodontist Dr. Steven Seibert compares scaling and root planing to having an irritating splinter removed from an infected finger. The procedure involves thoroughly scaling all plaque, toxins and tartar deposits from your teeth and root surfaces. It is followed by root planing, which smoothes all rough areas on your roots' surfaces. Smooth root surfaces keep germs, plaque and tartar from re-adhering underneath the gumline, allowing your gums to heal and reattach themselves more firmly.

After the Procedure

At a follow-up visit, your dentist will want to check on the healing of your gums and the status of your pockets. The good news is that, in most cases, red or swollen gum tissue becomes firm and pink again, bleeding is reduced or eliminated, and pockets get smaller. If your gum tissue has responded well and remains stable, you may not need any further treatment.

More advanced periodontal conditions, on the other hand, may require surgical interventions by a periodontist after root planing and scaling to stop the progression of bone loss. However, your scaling and root planing treatment often lessens the amount of surgery you need.

Periodontal Maintenance

After periodontal treatment with a periodontist, whether surgical or nonsurgical, your dentist may want to put you on a schedule of maintenance visits. Dr. Seibert recommends that his patients alternate appointments every two to four months between his office and their general dental practice. These maintenance visits consist of routine cleanings and the careful examination of gum tissue, as well as measurements of pocket depths and gum recession.

Oral Care for Prevention

Periodontal disease can sneak up on you without warning, and the South African Dental Association (SADA) Mouth Healthy site urges you to follow through with regular dental check-ups and periodontal examinations. A good home care routine is key in preventing gum disease from starting and keeping your mouth healthy after any type of oral treatment. Here's what you need to do:

  • Brush at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Replace your toothbrush when the bristles are worn.
  • Floss daily to clean between your teeth and bridge work, crowns or implants.
  • Use an antimicrobial mouthwash.
  • Don't smoke! Or if you are a smoker, please try to stop smoking to make your body healthier.

Whether you call it deep cleaning, or root planing and scaling teeth, this conservative procedure plays a critical role in treating periodontal disease. So, if your dentist recommends scaling and root planing for you, rest assured it should put you on the road to good periodontal health.

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