Deep Cleanings & Root Planing

What is root planing anyway? And do I really need it?

If your dentist or dental hygienist suggests a deep cleaning, you may think, “No, thank you! A regular cleaning goes deep enough!” However, it is actually a specific treatment that protects you and treats gum and periodontal diseases.

Root planing and scaling means deposits will be removed from the tooth’s root surfaces as well as the smoothing (planing) of those surfaces, so they are resistant to tartar buildup in the future. 

Why do I need a Deep Cleaning or Root Scaling?

Gum disease is caused by a sticky film of bacteria called plaque. The bacteria in plaque can cause your gums to become inflamed. Plaque can get trapped in pockets located where the gums meet the tooth and cannot be removed with your toothbrush. If untreated, gum disease could lead to bone and tooth loss.

It is a very common problem. A 2015 study in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that scaling and root planing is beneficial to patients with chronic periodontitis, which is gum disease that has advanced past gingivitis. Chronic periodontitis affects nearly half of all adults over 30 in the United States. 

Tooth scaling will clean out these troublesome pockets and give your gums a chance to heal. Scaling is non-surgical, but it is a different type of procedure from a standard dental cleaning because it involves cleaning the areas of the tooth below the gum line.

In some cases we may recommend scaling with hand-held instruments. We may use an instrument called a probe to measure the area around your teeth to see if you have any pocketing in the sulcus (the area between the tooth and gum where bacteria may group). If the pockets are larger than 3 millimeters, we may recommend deep scaling and root planing. Scaling involves removing plaque and calculus from the enamel of the teeth both above and below the gum line. The other part of deep cleaning is root planing to remove plaque and calculus from the surface of the roots of your teeth. A scaling and root planing procedure may take more than one visit. 

In other cases, we may use our ultrasonic scaling instruments. Ultrasonic scaling instruments clean plaque from the teeth with a vibrating metal tip that chips off the tartar and a water spray to wash it away and keep the tip cool.

How can I tell I really need a Deep Cleaning?

There are very specific guidelines to diagnose periodontal disease or pre-stages of the problem. For example, if your dentist reveals significant pockets 4mm or greater, then you may be in the early stages of periodontal disease. This may make you a candidate for a deep teeth cleaning. Feel free to ask Dr. Wheatley or our hygienist to explain what exactly led us to the recommendations. Moreover, insurance companies are very picky and we have to clearly make a case for why we recommend deep cleaning or root scaling for your insurance to pay for it. So it’s not something we take lightly. However, we know that there are some very profit-focused dentist practices in the market that occasionally may recommend treatment that is medically not necessary. That is not only concerning for patients but also for our profession as a whole. So if you have gone to a different dentist, and their recommendation did not sound right to you, you should seek out a second opinion. We are happy to give you one or review any treatment plans.

Does Dental Scaling Hurt?

The short answer is, it really shouldn’t hurt. We will apply numbing agents or local anesthesia to assure you feel as comfortable as possible. While it is non-surgical, your provider will get a little deeper into your gums than you are used to from regular cleanings. They may also have to remove hardened deposits which may require a little more force. However, you should not experience any serious discomfort. After the procedure your gums may feel a little sore and may look pink. You should recover from this within a couple of days.

Here is the Good News!

You may never need one. Preventative care is your best defense. If you see your dentist regularly and get your teeth cleaned (we recommend twice a year), and practice good oral hygiene at home (including brushing and flossing regularly), you may never need this procedure. So brush, brush, brush – and call us to schedule your next checkup and cleaning.