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Scaling and Root Planing

Even if you brush and floss all the time, there might come a point when your dentist recommends scaling and root planing, procedures that ensure healthy gums and teeth.

What are scaling and root planing?

Scaling and root planing are nonsurgical procedures that are used to fight gum disease.

Gum disease starts when plaque forms on teeth. When plaque builds up and hardens, it is called tartar. Plaque and tartar are the perfect places for bacteria to live, and they begin to multiply. If the bacteria stay on your teeth for too long, your body starts making new blood vessels in your gums to fight any infection. These new blood vessels cause your gums to look red and swollen.

The bacteria can irritate the gums, making them bleed easily when you brush your teeth or even when you’re eating. This is the early stage of gum disease, which is called gingivitis.

What is the difference between scaling and root planing?

When scaling is done, the professional gets rid of tartar from the surface of teeth, including below the gum line. If you have gum disease, you may have deep gum “pockets” where tartar builds up that your dentist will have to scale away using special tools. When root planing, tooth roots are made smoother, so that bacteria don’t have a bumpy surface for adhering. Most of the time, both are done at the same time.

What should I expect during scaling and root planing?

Depending on how deep your gum pockets are and how much tartar has built up, your scaling and root planing may be divided up into two or more appointments. If you have gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease, scaling and planing may only take one visit. However, if your gum disease is at a more advanced stage, multiple visits will probably be required.

First,hygienist will numb the area. Then, he or she will use a combination of instruments to clean plaque and tartar off of teeth and roots. He or she will start by using ultrasonic instruments, which are electric or air powered, to remove large chunks of plaque and tartar from teeth, including the roots. One of the ultrasonic instruments used has a dull metal tip that knocks plaque and tartar off the tooth as it vibrates at a very high frequency. Another instrument is a water irrigation system, which cools this metal tip while helping to flush out any debris from around teeth.

Second, he or she will use hand instruments to chip away at any plaque and to ensure that the surface of the tooth is clean and smooth.

What happens after this procedure?

Your teeth and gums will feel sore after this, especially because of the root planing part as this is a deep cleaning beneath the gums. Your teeth may be more sensitive to hot and cold foods and drinks for a while, and your gums may bleed a bit, but this shouldn’t last long. You should avoid hard foods. You should avoid smoking as it slows down the healing process.

You can try ibuprofen or other over-the-counter pain relievers, or your dentist may prescribe a stronger painkiller for you. Doctor may tell you to use an antiseptic mouthwash. You should try to brush and floss as well as you can in the days after scaling and planing although it may not be easy because your mouth will be sensitive.

Doctor may recommend that you come in for cleanings every three to four months if it seems you are prone to tartar build up.

Are there any risks to scaling and root planing?

Despite the benefits, the treatment can introduce harmful bacteria into the bloodstream. If you have a health condition that puts you at risk for infection, or if an infection would be especially dangerous for you, you should discuss this with doctor beforehand, as he may want to start you on antibiotics before the procedure.

Of course you should discuss the risks with your dentist, but neglecting to have the procedure means risks as well. It can mean gum disease that gets worse, which can lead to a loss of teeth and the tissues that support them.

Scaling and root planing may not be the most glamorous of procedures, but they are very important.