What Is a Scaling at the Dentist?

For patients dealing with excess plaque buildup and gum disease, dentists will recommend a procedure known as dental scaling – but what is a scaling at the dentist? What does it involve? Why is it necessary? All of these questions – and more – are answered below.

Dental scaling: an overview

Scaling involves the removal of stains, tooth deposits, plaque, and tartar. Also known as deep cleaning, this common procedure doesn’t necessarily stay above the gum line. Removing any plaque buildup found below the gum line can also be necessary. This might sound similar to a general cleaning you receive during a routine dental appointment; however, gum and teeth scaling goes beyond that treatment.

You may also see a reference to root planing alongside scaling. Planing is necessary when more radical treatment is required. Although similar to the scaling procedure, it involves removing dead substances found on the tooth’s surface under the gumline.

When are scaling and root planing required?

Plaque and tartar buildup is natural. It’s something that everyone experiences in some form. At all times, your teeth are covered by a thin film that’s made up of saliva, proteins, and bacteria. This film is a sticky substance for the sugars, acids, and tiny particles found in the food you eat and forms what is known as plaque.

Plaque can often be dealt with by regularly brushing and flossing, as well as going to the dentist for routine cleanings. However, if this plaque sticks around, more serious issues may develop aside from an unsightly appearance on the tooth’s surface – it may, in fact, lead to gum disease. This might then cause gum tissue loosening, where the gum and bone’s inner layer drifts away from the teeth and form deep pockets.

Healthy gums have pockets between one-to-three millimeters below the gumline – but people suffering from gum disease can see these pockets develop to four millimeters or more. That’s bad news because the pockets can fill with plaque, potentially resulting in bad breath and further oral health problems.

If the gum’s pockets have regressed to this point, a dental scaling will often be recommended by your dentist. This procedure will remove the plaque found under the gumline, which helps remedy gum disease. 

What does the dental scaling procedure involve?

This type of dental cleaning is one of the most commonly provided by dentists. Due to the nature of scaling and root planing, it is not something that can be done at home – and that’s why you need to visit the dentist for this treatment.

Below is a quick overview of the procedure and what it entails:

  • Dental exam: The first step is a dental exam. This initial check will determine the severity of the buildup of plaque, tartar, calculus, etc., above and below the gum line. It also provides the dentist with information regarding specific problem areas that require particular attention.
  • Local anesthetic application: To numb the treatment area, an anesthetic is applied. This is typically a light anesthetic, such as a topical cream. Even though the procedure is non-surgical, the anesthesia stops you from feeling pain or discomfort.
  • Scaling: A scaler is a small instrument with a hook shape, which the dentist uses to scrape away plaque that is found within the gum’s pockets. The scaler is able to reach much deeper than what can be achieved with regular brushing.
  • Planing: If necessary, the dentist will also use a dental curette to perform planing. The dental curette is an instrument similar to a scaler, yet it is used to smooth out any rough edges found on the teeth’s roots. Planing will help the gums heal, allowing them to move back into position without harmful buildup getting in the way.

There is an alternative treatment for tooth scaling. It involves the use of an ultrasonic instrument that combines a vibrating metal tip with a water spray. The metal tip effectively chips away at the buildup, whereas the water spray cleans the pocket of any residue.

Depending on the severity of the buildup, more than one visit to the dentist may be required. Recovery from the procedure is fast in most cases, and you should feel fine within a few days.

What does dental scaling feel like?

If you’re fearful about experiencing any pain during the procedure, you shouldn’t worry. It’s true that dental scaling can feel a little awkward or even uncomfortable if your gums are sensitive. However, local anesthetic is available to desensitize the treatment area, which will numb your gums, making the scaling a lot more comfortable for you and minimizing feeling.

How long does dental scaling take?

In most cases, scaling is performed in just 15 to 30 minutes. However, the length of the procedure is dependent on the severity of the buildup. If there’s excess plaque and calculus, the first visit could be longer than 30 minutes.

Minor buildup and issues can be completed in a single session, but in some cases, the process might also require multiple visits. Some dentists might complete the scaling over two sessions, while others will divide up the job into four parts.

After the procedure: what should you expect?

Following the procedure, it’s not uncommon to experience side effects such as soreness, swelling, and initial bleeding – but these should only last for a few days at most. As part of your dental care routine at home, your dentist could prescribe a specialist mouthwash to help keep your gums clean and healthy following the procedure.

To measure your oral health after dental scaling, your dentist should arrange a second scheduled visit. This follow-up appointment not only checks to see if your mouth has healed as expected, but it also examines the gum pockets to check if they’re regressed further. If they have, additional treatment might be required.

Book a dental scaling appointment today

Dental scaling is a common routine treatment, so you shouldn’t feel alone if you require this procedure. If you think scaling is necessary or you want a checkup, don’t hesitate to contact BAFDentistry to schedule an appointment.