Scaling and Root Planing

The world probably doesn’t have a dearth of dentistry jokes, but I want to expand your dentist joke vocabulary, so here we go. Calculus is hard. That has two meanings: calculus is, of course, the name of a type of math, but it’s also the technical term for what’s more commonly known as tartar, or hardened dental plaque. So plaque is easy, but calculus is hard! That’s why we need to scale; it helps us get to the root of problems! Okay, enough lame math/dental jokes, it’s time to explain what we’re going on about here.

Plaque is filled with bacteria, and it builds up over time. You can brush and floss really well, but over time, when you miss some plaque here and there, more plaque starts to form on top of it, and it begins to harden into tartar. Tartar, of course, still contains bacteria, and more plaque easily forms on top of it. This bacteria opens up your gums, forming pockets; more plaque builds up in these pockets, as well as more bacteria. This then hardens, and the cycle continues, while your gum disease gets worse and worse. That’s why you need a good dental cleaning at least once a year; that’s where scaling and root planing comes in!

You can’t brush away tartar, but a scaling tool can get rid of it. The cleaning process takes two steps. First, your dentist will get rid of all the tartar above and below the gumline using the scaling tool; next, they will smooth out the roots of your teeth to help the gums reattach, getting rid of those bacterial pockets. The root smoothing is called root planing. This might take a couple of visits, and it highly depends on how long ago you went to the dentist, as well as how thorough your daily oral health care routine is. Some folks have particularly sensitive gums, especially if their gum disease has been present for quite some time; for these patients, local anesthetic is available to make the scaling much more pleasant.

As explained above, gum disease is a positive feedback loop; as more pockets form, tartar can get lodged deeper in the gums, which can accelerate the rate at which the gums deteriorate – it becomes more difficult to brush away plaque before it becomes tartar when it’s located in gum pockets. That’s why it’s incredibly important to go see your dentist as soon as you start to see signs of gum disease – a thorough teeth cleaning is one of the best ways of stopping and reversing the disease’s progression. You should also visit your dentist at least once a year in order to stave off gum disease before it even starts.