Scaling and Root Planing

In periodontal disease, swollen unhealthy gums start to pull away from the teeth because of pockets where infection-causing plaque and tartar accumulate. During a scaling part of the treatment, the dentist or hygienist removes plaque, tartar and bacteria from the surfaces of your teeth and tooth roots. This is done with either hand tools or electronic instruments, or a combination of both.

Woman smiling in pinkIf you have gum disease, your dentist may recommend that scaling and root planing, along with periodontal maintenance checkups, become part of your routine dental visits, just like your cleanings and exams.

While scaling and root planing cannot cure periodontal disease, it can slow or stop its progression. The point of this procedure is to remove the bacteria-filled plaque and tartar that inflame your gums and the surrounding bone. Scaling and root planing can reduce the need for surgical intervention in the future and often helps swollen bleeding gums become healthy and pink again.

What Is Scaling and Root Planing?

Scaling and root planing is the gold standard of treatment for patients diagnosed with gum disease (i.e. periodontitis). This procedure is sometimes referred to as “deep cleaning” or simply “periodontal therapy”. If you have periodontitis that is at risk of getting worse, the dentist may recommend scaling and root planing to keep your gum disease from advancing. However, you should know that this is not a procedure that you can just undergo once then forget about it. We may recommend that you continue to come in for scaling and root planing as necessary to keep your mouth as healthy as possible despite your condition.

Procedure Overview

  • The handheld instruments used are a scaler and a curette. Both of these tools look a little like a metal chopstick with a sharp, curved tip. You’ve seen them before if you’ve had a regular dental cleaning. By gently scraping the tool along your tooth below the gum line, the dentist can find areas of tartar and plaque buildup.
  • Electronic scalers use ultrasonic vibration to remove plaque and tartar. The vibrating metal tip of the tool can chip away tartar and an accompanying water spray washes away the debris as it’s removed. This water spray also keeps the tip of the tool nice and cool.
  • In the root planing part of the treatment, the dentist or hygienist smoothes the surface of the tooth root to make it harder for bacteria to stick in the future and easier for the gums to re-attach. This is done with the same tools mentioned above but with a focus on making rough spots smooth again. Once the root planing is finished, the dentist may apply a disinfectant or antibiotics to further discourage the return of bacteria.
  • If you’ve ever been poked in the gums by accident, you know how sensitive they can be, especially if they’re already swollen from periodontitis. Before starting the scaling and root planing treatment we will numb your gums so that you won’t have any pain or discomfort while we’re working. Typically, only one or two quadrants of a patient’s mouth are treated at a time. That way we only need to numb one side of the mouth, so you’ll still be able to eat and drink fairly normally following your appointment as the anesthesia starts to fade.

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