Dentists recommend that most people have their teeth cleaned twice yearly. This involves removing plaque buildup, usually with small metal tools, on the tooth’s surface. Yet if you are starting to show signs of gum disease, teeth cleaning does not always adequately address the problem. Especially when gums don’t appear to be pink and healthy, and when they have started to recede, dentists and dental hygienists will recommend a procedure called root planing, along with scaling, to help reverse the damage that gum disease can cause.
Whereas the average cleaning helps remove plaque and buildup around teeth and right below the top of the gums, root planing and scaling goes much deeper, straight to the roots of teeth. Since the dentist is working on the roots, anesthesia is used, and it may take several visits to plane and scale all teeth and their roots. This procedure may also be used in preparation for tooth repair of one or more teeth.
The goal is to remove all bacteria, buildup, and any matter that may be causing the gums to recede and that will ultimately contribute to more severe gum disease. The tooth roots are viewed as infected. This means dentists may also place antibiotic substances at the roots to clear out bacteria.
There are several tools that can be used for root planing and scaling. Scaling involves using metal scrapers to remove hardened plaque. Any normal cleaning usually requires some scaling of the teeth. Dentists may also use sonic or ultrasonic cleaners at the roots and on the surface of teeth. These are thought to have potentially less risk for infection than metal scalers. Most dentists use a combination of both techniques, addressing really hardened bits of plaque with a scaler.
The main goals are to eliminate plaque, eliminate infection and provide the gums with a smooth surface from the roots up which can help regrow healthy gum matter. The degree to which this is effective depends upon how advanced gum disease is. Some patients complain that a principal difficulty in the procedure is affording it. Even with dental insurance, only a small amount of root planing may be covered, and costs can make the procedure prohibitive for some people, especially if the work needed to accomplish root planing is significant and the procedure must be done in several office visits.
Being diagnosed with periodontal or gum disease means continued maintenance of your teeth and gums that is much more significant than standard cleanings. Usually people with this condition must have maintenance treatments every three months thereafter to prevent regrowth of bacteria. Unfortunately, once gum disease sets in, the effort is not to cure it, which is currently not possible, but instead to control it. Keeping gum disease under control can help you maintain gums and teeth without the condition creating more gum or tooth damage.