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What is Periodontal Scaling?

Marjorie McAtee
By Marjorie McAtee
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Periodontal scaling is a dentistry procedure that's typically used to remove plaque, tartar, and bacteria from the teeth both above and below the gum line. This procedure can be used to prevent or treat periodontal disease, which can occur when the gums become chronically inflamed, usually due to poor dental hygiene. When bacteria and debris are allowed to accumulate below the gum line, the gums can begin to pull away from the teeth. Without treatment, periodontal disease can eventually lead to the loosening and loss of teeth. Periodontal scaling can be used to remove debris from the surface of the tooth below the gum line, so that the gums can heal and, hopefully, resume their normal shape.

The dentistry procedure known as periodontal scaling is just one of the many procedures designed to remove plaque from the teeth. Plaque is an often tacky substance that can form when bacteria and debris accumulate on the teeth. Dental hygiene practices are typically aimed at removing plaque to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

If plaque is allowed to accumulate below the gum line, the gums can become inflamed and easily wounded, leading to tooth loss. Inflamed, receding gums can often be treated with periodontal scaling. This procedure is usually performed by a dental hygienist, a periodontist or a dentist. A handheld pick or ultrasonic device is generally employed to scrape plaque and tartar from the surface of the teeth above and below the gum line. The average patient receives local anesthetic in the treatment area, since scraping the surface of the tooth below the gum line can cause pain and discomfort, especially when the gums are already inflamed.

Many dentists will combine periodontal scaling with a procedure known as root planing, which is intended to polish the surface of the tooth root beneath the gum line. This can help slow the accumulation of plaque on the tooth in the future. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to recover from periodontal scaling, depending on the state of the patient's gums at the time of the procedure. Once the gums have healed, inflammation and bleeding are usually significantly improved, although the teeth themselves may become more sensitive.

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