Myths and facts about scaling and root planing

Dental terminology has a way of working itself into everyday life — we all know what someone means when they talk about cavities or wisdom teeth, for instance. But even if you’re well-versed in the basics of oral health, it’s possible you may not know the full story behind tooth scaling and root planing.

Scaling and root planing is typically the first line of treatment for people with gum disease (periodontitis), particularly when there is bone loss around the teeth.

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    Scaling removes calculus (tartar) and bacteria from your tooth surfaces and from below your gumline with dental instruments, a laser, or an ultrasonic device.

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    Root planing is similar and involves cleaning tartar and bacteria from the root surfaces of your teeth, near and below your gumline. This helps make them smooth, less likely to collect plaque, and easier to keep clean. Root planing may help your gums reattach if they have separated from your tooth root.

Both procedures take place during the same dental visit and may be performed by your dentist, a dental hygienist, or a periodontist. The whole mouth is usually done over several appointments, not in a single session.

Myths and facts about the treatments

Myth #1: Scaling and root planing are painful.

The facts: You’ll usually be numbed by a local anesthetic during the procedure, and there may be some soreness or discomfort after. In the event you do have some pain, talk to your dentist about a safe way to relieve it.

Myth #2: Only people with poor oral health habits need the treatment.

The facts: While poor oral hygiene is a common cause of gum disease, it is not the only one. In fact, gum disease is very common among Americans, and additional risk factors include:

  • Family history
  • Diabetes
  • Dry mouth
  • Smoking or use of other tobacco products


Gum disease is more common than you may think, with some form of it found in an estimated:1

  • 47% of Americans over 30
  • 70% of Americans over 65


Myth #3: Gaps between teeth will widen.

The facts: Scaling and root planing will not create or widen any existing gaps in your teeth. This perception exists because puffy, inflamed gums can cover up gaps created by bone loss (which is caused by periodontitis). Your gums will shrink back to a healthy level after the treatment.

Myth #4: Teeth become more sensitive long term.

The facts: Sensitivity is usually a temporary side effect and typically subsides after four to six weeks. During that recovery period, you can reduce discomfort by brushing gently but thoroughly with a fluoride toothpaste and avoiding foods that are too hot, too cold, or difficult to chew. Let your dentist know if the sensitivity is not going away.

Myth #5: There is a long recovery period.

The facts: The recovery period from the procedure itself is not extensive and you should be able to resume your regular daily routine within a couple of hours. Treatment for your gum disease could include additional appointments and treatments depending on how far it has progressed.

Continued recovery depends on following your dentist’s instructions for post-treatment care. This can include taking antibiotics in addition to your regular oral health routine. If you experience bleeding, more pain than expected, or unusual symptoms, call your dentist right away.

Scaling and root planing can save your smile

When you cut through the myths about these helpful treatments, you’ll find that they are generally painless, effective, and, if you need them, an important step in improving your oral health.

Keep your gums healthy now and in the future to limit your need for treatments. Brushing twice a day and flossing daily, drinking water to wash away food when you eat, and keeping your regular dental appointments are a few ways you can reduce your risk for gum disease.

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