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What is Root Planing?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon149621 — On Feb 05, 2011

I just had this done today and it sounds 100 times worse than it actually is. It's really not that bad at all.

I was freaked out about going and even there it was a bit "freaky," but honestly, it was virtually painless and I could eat within hours afterwords with no issues. So don't be too worried about the technical details of it. A good dentist will make it painless and quick.

By EarlyForest — On Oct 28, 2010

Sure root planing and any kind of periodontal treatment is scary and painful, but don't forget what you see in the gum disease pictures -- losing your teeth or having receding, infected gums is much, much worse than the temporary pain or discomfort that you get from a periodontal treatment.

Of course, you can prevent so many problems in your mouth with regular brushing and flossing. And now you have another motivation -- avoiding periodontal services!

By Planch — On Oct 28, 2010

After reading this, I hope I never ever get periodontitis! I googled some gum disease photos to see what a periodontal disease scaling treatment would look like, and let me tell you, it is not for the squeamish.

I already hate it when my dentist uses that scrapey thing to push my gums around; it feels like he's pushing my gums back like they were cuticles!

But after seeing the gum disease pictures with the scaling equipment, I really don't think I could handle it -- they just go so deep! How could you even eat afterwards?

I will definitely be brushing my teeth more often from now on!

By pleats — On Oct 28, 2010

Wow. Just when I thought the dentist couldn't get any scarier, I learn about periodontal scaling.

I am going to start flossing like nobody's business so I never, ever have to have a periodontal gum recession treatment -- that sounds really, really unpleasant.

I mean, I know the alternative of receding gums is worse, but seriously, it can't be by that much. I already feel like the dentist is up to his elbows in my gums when I get a regular cleaning, so I can't imagine what a scaling treatment would feel like.

Yeesh. So much for feeling safe at the dentist's!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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