What is Scaling and Root Planing?

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  • Written By: Katriena Knights
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 03 May 2020
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Scaling and root planing is a technique used in dentistry to treat gum disease, also known as periodontal disease. When dental plaque builds up along the gum line, it forms a hardened substance called tartar, or calculus. This buildup can damage the periodontium, or the support structures of the gums and other tissues that surround the teeth. The dentist uses various instruments to remove this hardened plaque from below the gum line, allowing the gums to protect the tooth roots properly. Root planing also smooths the surfaces of the tooth so that plaque is less likely to adhere.

Another term used to refer to the process of scaling and root planing is "deep cleaning." Both hand scalers and special ultrasonic instruments are used to remove plaque, calculus and stains from all surfaces of the teeth. Local anesthesia, administered as a localized gel or an injection, might be employed to reduce the patient's discomfort. During root planing, plaque and calculus are removed from below the gum line, often from pockets that have formed because the gum has pulled away from the tooth root. These pockets allow bacteria and plaque to collect below the gum line, often resulting in damage to the tooth root and its support structures.

Considered a conventional periodontal therapy, scaling and root planing is particularly effective for mild gum disease such as gingivitis. In cases where gum disease has not become serious, it can be all that is necessary to correct the condition. This treatment eliminates existing pockets around the teeth, removing both the plaque that has built up there and the pocket where new plaque buildup can occur. If gum disease has progressed farther, however, scaling and root planing might need to be followed by periodontal surgery, in which gum tissue must be removed to expose root tissue that has been compromised by plaque buildup.

To avoid the necessity of scaling and root planing, one should brush twice a day and floss once a day. Regular twice-yearly visits to the dentist can help diagnose the symptoms of gum disease early so that less invasive procedures can be employed to correct the problem. If gum disease is detected early enough, it often can be treated with mouthwashes, baking soda treatments or other approaches that do not require deep cleaning. Maintaining proper oral hygiene will reduce the incidence of plaque and tartar and will prevent the need for even non-surgical periodontal therapy in the long term.


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Post 4

@OeKc05 - I didn’t have to be on a special diet, but I avoided sharp foods that could poke into my gums, like popcorn and potato chips, for a couple of weeks. It all depends on how deep the dentist needs to scrape.

My gums were really sore, but he had to go pretty deep into them to do what he needed to do. They bled afterward a little bit, and he told me that I could refrain from flossing for awhile. He said I could gently brush my teeth with a soft bristled brush.

Also, my gums were extra sensitive to hot and cold during recovery. They throbbed with pain, and my dentist gave me some prescription painkillers.

Post 3

After reading this article, I’m scared that I may need to have this procedure done. My gums have started to recede noticeably, and I do see some plaque below my gumline.

The thought of someone scraping with a sharp instrument beneath my gums is torture to me. It’s the dental equivalent to nails on a chalkboard in my mind.

If I do have to have this done, how long will it take to recover? Will I be able to eat and brush my teeth after the surgery, or will I have to eat only soft foods for awhile?

Post 2

@Perdido - It probably would have been painful, had my dentist not used a numbing gel. He put this gel directly into the pockets, so I didn’t have to deal with a numb tongue like I get with injections.

Also, he did the procedure in two separate appointments. The first day, he did my lower teeth, and the next, my upper teeth. I’m glad he did it this way, because my gums were sore afterwards, and at least only half my mouth hurt.

It was just a gentle throbbing soreness, so ibuprofen helped ease the pain. I’m sure he would have given me stronger painkillers if I had asked for them, though.

Post 1

Root planning sounds very painful. Has anyone here ever had this procedure?

I see my dentist every six months, and he keeps my teeth scraped thoroughly enough that I don’t need any additional treatment. I brush my teeth after every meal, and if for some reason I can’t, I chew sugarfree gum to get food out of my teeth.

He suggested that I use brush picks for cleaning between hard to reach places. He told me that using these would reduce the amount of scaling he has to do.

These picks have small, flexible bristles that go between teeth. You rotate the pick with your fingers, and the bristles scrape the plaque off the surface.

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