A sticky film of bacteria called plaque regularly forms on your teeth. It’s fairly effectively cleaned away with brushing and flossing, but if these habits go lax, or regular appointments to the dentist are not kept for dental cleanings, the plaque could build up on tooth surfaces and along the gum line. The bacteria in plaque attack the gums, causing them to become inflamed and start to pull away from the teeth – an early stage of gum disease. The gums start to form spaces called periodontal pockets where more plaque can get trapped. This plaque cannot be removed with regular cleaning, but leaving it untreated could lead to bone and tooth loss. Gum disease, caught in its early stages before it’s done any damage below the gum line, can be treated with a regular professional cleaning. However, if the pockets between the gums and teeth have gotten too deep, a scaling and root planing will be needed.
Also called a deep cleaning, the scaling and planing procedure is similar to a routine dental cleaning, but goes beneath the gum line and treats the tooth roots as well.
The first part of the procedure, scaling, involves the removal of all the plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) from above and below the gum line, cleaning all the way down to the bottom of the periodontal pockets. The second part of the procedure is a root planing, where your dentist will smooth out the teeth roots to help the gums reattach to the teeth. This also discourages bacteria from building up on the tooth surfaces again. The whole procedure may take more than one visit to complete and, because it is more invasive than a regular cleaning, a local anesthetic may be needed.
Following a deep cleaning, your teeth may feel sensitive for up to a week. You may also have pain, and your gums may be swollen, feel tender, or bleed. Your dentist can prescribe a pill or mouth rinse to prevent infection, control pain, or help you heal. Medication can also be inserted directly into the pocket that was cleaned.
Additional appointments may be scheduled to allow your dentist to check on how your gums have healed and to measure the depth of the pockets. If they have gotten deeper, further treatment may be needed. Good dental habits are important after a deep cleaning to prevent gum disease from recurring or becoming more serious.