When you hear “deep cleaning,” you may think of steam carpet cleaning or scrubbing your bathtub to remove soap scum and grime. If you hear this term at the dentist, a similar approach applies. If your dentist or hygienist suggests a deep cleaning, also known as scaling and root planing, they mean going beyond your typical bi-annual teeth cleaning. If you aren’t a big fan of regular dental cleanings, then you may feel a little hesitant about a deep cleaning. The good news? Scaling and root planing could be one of the smartest health decisions you ever make. Read on to learn more about scaling and root planing and how to know if you would benefit from a deep cleaning.
What Is Scaling and Root Planing?
Scaling and root planing is a gum treatment that combines two basic dental hygiene procedures.
The action of removing tartar (calculus) and plaque deposits from the teeth.
- Root planing
This process involves smoothing out the root surfaces by carefully scraping away hardened layers of calculus and bacteria that have fused to the root surface.
Scaling may sound familiar because your dental hygienist normally does it when they clean your teeth during your six-month dental checkups. In the case of a deep cleaning, your hygienist takes things a step further and combines scaling with root planing to remove debris from below the gum line and smooth away rough spots on the roots.
During this procedure, your hygienist may use any of the following techniques to deep clean your teeth and gums.
- Scrape off calculus with fine-tipped hand instruments
- Blast away stubborn calculus deposits with an ultrasonic scaling device
- Direct a small laser beam toward inflamed gum tissue to kill germs and promote healing
- Apply a local antibiotic medication to prevent bacteria regrowth
When Should Scaling and Root Planing Be Done?
A deep cleaning, or scaling and root planing, will probably be one of the first courses of action your dentist or hygienist recommends if your gums show signs of chronic periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease, also called gum disease, is a condition where your gums swell from inflammation, typically in response to plaque bacteria. The swelling can make your gums pull away from your teeth, which creates an opening for more bacteria to move in.
As the infection and inflammation progress, they can trigger an immune response that breaks down the ligaments and bone that support your teeth. Left untreated, periodontal disease can eventually lead to tooth loss. Ignoring this condition could also affect your overall health. Research has linked periodontal disease with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s, amongst other potential complications.
Not sure if you have gum disease? Your dentist or periodontist will be able to tell you for sure. In the meantime, look out for these common signs and symptoms.
- Foul breath odor that won’t go away no matter what you do
- A nasty taste coming from certain parts of your mouth
- Gums that bleed whenever you brush or floss
- Tender, sensitive, or itchy-feeling gums
- Gum recession
- Loose teeth
If you notice any of these symptoms, book a checkup at your local dental office to find out if a periodontal deep cleaning is right for you. The hygienist will examine your gums, take X-rays, review your health history, and take measurements around each tooth to check for signs of bone loss before a diagnosis is made.
If your dentist or periodontist diagnoses you with gum disease, it’s in your best interest to treat it as soon as possible. A thorough, professional deep cleaning will remove the bacteria and calculus that’s irritating your gums, and give your tooth roots a clean and smooth surface for your gums to heal against.
So how often do you need scaling and root planing? Thankfully, the procedure isn’t something most people need regularly.
Does Scaling and Root Planing Hurt?
The idea of cleaning your tooth roots below the gum line is, admittedly, not a pleasant one to think about. But when you have the treatment, your hygienist will make sure you are as comfortable as possible the entire time.
Some folks are perfectly happy with just a little numbing jelly applied to their gums before the procedure. But most people feel much more comfortable when the hygienist numbs the treatment area with an injection of local anesthetic. You may feel a pinch when the anesthetic is administered, but you should feel very little pain soon after.
How Long Does Scaling and Root Planing Take?
A scaling and root planing appointment typically takes 60 to 90 minutes (though it can be upwards of 90 minutes, depending on the severity). It can leave you feeling a little sore afterward, so your hygienist will probably divide your treatment into two or more visits. They will clean one half of your mouth during the first visit, and then the other side at your next appointment. This ensures you always have one “good” side left to chew your food with while your gums recover.
What to Expect After Scaling and Root Planing
Your dental or periodontal team will take care to keep you as comfortable as possible during your scaling and root planing treatment. But what happens afterward? Here is some helpful insight and tips for post-treatment care.
Immediately after: You’ll probably still feel numb following your treatment. Your hygienist will provide you with instructions to soothe any discomfort you have and may give you a prescription for an antibacterial mouth rinse.
A few hours later: You may experience some discomfort as the anesthetic wears off. Be very careful while brushing your teeth so you don’t bump your sensitive gums. Avoid eating or drinking anything too hot, stay away from foods that have small seeds or fibers that can get stuck in your gums, and don’t use alcohol-containing mouthwash.
The first few weeks after: It’s normal for your teeth to be extra sensitive in the first few weeks after a deep cleaning. A desensitizing toothpaste can help. It’s essential to practice excellent oral hygiene. Your gums cannot heal and recover from periodontal disease if you don’t take steps to keep the plaque bacteria away. Brush your teeth two times a day, rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash, and clean between your teeth with floss or another device as your hygienist instructed.
Three to four months after: By now, your gums should show signs of improvement. Your hygienist will schedule a follow-up visit to check on your healing progress. You may need to come in for gum health checkups every few months until the inflammation subsides, proving your current gum care regimen works.
Scaling and root planing treatment may sound intimidating at first, but trusted, effective treatment can get your oral health on the right track. If you suspect any signs of gum disease, schedule an appointment with your dentist to discuss the next steps.
Dr. Elizabeth Clary, D.M.D. is a member of the American Dental Association, Missouri Dental Association, Missouri Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Chicago Dental Society, Greater St. Louis Dental Society, and Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine Alumni Association.