Dental Scaling and Root Planing Explained

Dental Scaling and Root Planing Explained article banner

What Is Dental Scaling?

If you have a stubborn case of gum disease, your dentist may recommend a dental procedure called dental scaling to keepit from getting worse. Dental scaling is the most common non-surgical way to treat gum disease, which is alsoknown as periodontitis. This will remove plaque and tartar from your teeth and help your gums regain health. But if you have severe periodontal disease and your condition may require gum surgery, your dentist and periodontistmay recommend a scaling and root planing before the surgery, as well as a thorough teeth-cleaning prior to the procedure.

Is Dental Scaling Necessary?

The sticky, bacteria-filled plaque that causes gum disease tends to accumulate in the area along and just below the gumline. If you have gums that are slightly receded from your teeth, you may be at increased risk for gum diseaseand your dentist may recommend scaling. Scaling is non-surgical, but it is a different type of procedure from a standarddental cleaning because it involves cleaning the areas of the tooth below the gum line.

Types of Dental Scaling Tools

There are two types of scaling instruments and some dentists or dental hygienists may use both:

  • Scaling with hand-held instruments. Your dentist or periodontist will use a dental scaler and curette to manuallyremove (scale) the plaque from the teeth. Because the dentist or dental hygienist can't see the plaque, theyrely on touch to identify areas of tartar buildup and rough spots.

  • Scaling with ultrasonic instruments. Ultrasonic scaling instruments clean plaque from the teeth with a vibratingmetal tip that chips off the tartar and a water spray to wash it away and keep the tip cool.

Does Dental Scaling Hurt?

During the teeth scaling process, your dentist or dental hygienist will numb the gums and tooth roots with a local anesthesia,but teeth scaling and root planing cause very little discomfort. Your dentist or dental hygienist will use specializedtools to remove the hardened deposits of plaque buildup (tartar) from the teeth both above and below the gum line.Root planing involves smoothing rough spots on the roots of the teeth that can promote gum disease by trapping andholding bacteria.

The whole procedure may be done in a single visit, although generally a quadrant (1/4th of the mouth) or half of themouth is recommended per appointment. After a scaling and planing, you can expect that your gums will be numb fromthe anesthesia and then possibly a little tender. But if you maintain a consistent oral health routine of twice-dailytooth brushing and daily flossing, your gums should quickly regain a firm, healthy, pink appearance.

Dental Scaling Procedure Watchouts

Be sure that your dental professional knows your total health history before he or she performs a scaling and rootplaning procedure. The procedure can introduce bacteria into the bloodstream, so precautions may need to be takento treat gum disease in people who are at increased risk for infections, such as those with heart problems, liverdisease or a compromised immune system due to an illness, such as HIV.