Definition and Overview

Scaling and root planing are two of the most common dental procedures performed to remove plaque and tartar buildup to prevent tooth decay, as well as smoothen and save the gums from further damage due to bacteria. Both are parts of deep or comprehensive dental cleaning. These procedures are non-surgical and are performed to prevent the need for more serious procedures such as root canal and periodontal surgery.

Who Needs It and Expected Results

Everyone can benefit from regular dental cleaning, which is recommended once every six months. This helps fight tartar and plaque buildup, reducing the possibility of gum disease. Meanwhile, scaling and root planing are specifically for patients who already have periodontal pockets or are suffering from periodontal disease. These procedures are also ideal for minor cases of tooth decay or damage wherein the teeth can still be saved as opposed to being extracted. Normally, scaling and root planing is performed in conjunction with other dental treatments such as teeth whitening and dental filling.

Depending on the severity of the gum disease and the presence of calcified deposits, these procedures may be performed in quadrant with each session lasting for about an hour.

Although the procedures can be performed using local anaesthetic, patients can expect mild discomfort as well as pain following the procedure. Swelling and minor bleeding are to be expected as well.

How Does It Work?

Both scaling and root planing are non-surgical outpatient dental procedures that can be performed under local anaesthesia depending on the severity of the condition and the patient’s level of anxiety. The procedure, which is performed by a periodontist, starts by removing plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth’s surface using curette or a dental scaler. An ultrasonic instrument may also be used. As its name suggests, the hand piece uses ultrasonic waves to break down the deposits. The device also has the ability to spray small amounts of water to further soften the plaque and remove those that have already been chipped off.

This is followed by root planing, which is performed to smoothen the surface of the roots to speed up the healing process and to significantly reduce the possibility of bacterial growth that can pose serious dental problems later on. In cases that involve deep periodontal pockets, the periodontist may opt to flip the gums and clean the area thoroughly to ensure that there’s no bacteria left behind.

Possible Risks and Complications

Serious complications from root planing and scaling are very rare. This is because they are non-surgical and usually don’t involve the use of general anesthesia.

One of the most common side effects of the procedures is swelling. Gums are very sensitive, and they can easily get bruised. However, the swelling should subside within the next few days. Bleeding may also be present, but it should not last for several hours, and it should be minor.

If the gum disease is severe, it may take a few more appointments before the gums start to shrink or recede. For others, this may be frustrating and thus may decide to stop the treatment altogether.


References:

  • American Dental Association.Adults Under 40. Available at: www.mouthhealthy.org/en/adults-under-40. Accessed 10/29/14.
  • Chow AW. Infections of the Oral Cavity, Neck, and Head. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 65.
  • Messadi DV, Younai FS. Halitosis. DermatolClin. 2003;21:147-155.
  • Shay K. Dental and oral disorders. In: Duthie EH, Katz PR, Malone ML, eds. Practice of Geriatrics. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2007:chap 39.
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