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Dental Cleaning and Scaling: What to Expect

Dental Cleaning (1) (1)

Maintaining good oral hygiene is essential for overall health, and regular dental cleanings are crucial to that routine. But sometimes, more than a standard cleaning is needed. If you have gum disease, your dentist might recommend a dental cleaning and scaling procedure, also known as scaling and root planing. This deep cleaning removes plaque and tartar buildup from below the gum line, helping to fight infection and promote gum health.

This article will delve into what you can expect during a dental cleaning and scaling procedure, including the process, potential side effects, and aftercare tips.

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What is Dental Cleaning and Scaling?

A dental cleaning, also called prophylaxis, is a routine procedure that removes plaque and tartar (calculus) from the surface of your teeth. Plaque is a sticky film that forms on teeth from bacteria in your mouth. If plaque isn’t removed through regular brushing and flossing, it hardens into tartar, which is much more difficult to remove.

Scaling, however, focuses on removing plaque and tartar buildup below the gum line, which can contribute to gum disease. This procedure is often accompanied by root planing, which smooths out the rough surfaces of the tooth roots. Smoothing the roots helps gums reattach more tightly to the teeth, preventing further infection.

Who Needs Dental Cleaning and Scaling?

Your dentist will recommend dental cleaning and scaling if they detect gum disease during a routine checkup. Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is an inflammation of the gums caused by plaque buildup. There are two main stages of gum disease:

  • Gingivitis: is the mildest form of gum disease, characterized by inflamed and tender gums that bleed easily. Gingivitis is reversible with good oral hygiene and professional cleanings.
  • Periodontitis: In this more advanced stage, the inflammation spreads to the bone supporting the teeth. Periodontitis can lead to tooth loss if left untreated.

What to Expect During the Procedure

A dental cleaning and scaling procedure typically follows these steps:

  • Consultation: Your dentist will discuss your medical history and any concerns you have. They will also examine your teeth and gums to determine the severity of gum disease.
  • X-rays: X-rays may be taken to assess the health of your jawbone.
  • Anesthesia: Depending on your comfort level and the severity of gum disease, your dentist might use a local anesthetic to numb the area.
  • Scaling: The dentist will use an ultrasonic scaler, a handheld device with vibrating metal tips that break up and remove tartar deposits.
  • Root Planing: After scaling, your dentist will use hand instruments called curettes to smooth the tooth root surfaces, promoting gum reattachment.
  • Polishing: Your teeth will be polished to remove any remaining stains and promote a smoother surface that resists plaque buildup.
  • Aftercare Instructions: The dentist will provide instructions on caring for your teeth and gums after the procedure.

How Long Does Dental Cleaning and Scaling Take?

The procedure’s length depends on the gum disease’s severity and the number of teeth requiring treatment. A typical cleaning and scaling appointment can take 30 minutes to two hours. In some cases where severe gum disease is present, multiple appointments might be needed.

Potential Side Effects

Dental cleaning and scaling is a safe procedure, but you might experience some temporary side effects, including:

  • Gum soreness and tenderness: This common side effect usually resolves within a few days.
  • Gum bleeding: You might notice some bleeding during and after the procedure, but this should subside within a day or two.
  • Tooth sensitivity: Your teeth might feel sensitive to hot or cold for a few days after the procedure.

Aftercare Tips for Dental Cleaning and Scaling

Following your dentist’s aftercare instructions is crucial for optimal healing and preventing further gum problems. Here are some tips:

  • Practice gentle brushing and flossing: Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and be gentle when brushing your teeth, especially near the gum line. Daily flossing is also important to remove plaque and food particles between teeth.
  • Use a pain reliever: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help manage discomfort.
  • Use a prescribed mouthwash: Your dentist might prescribe a medicated mouthwash to help reduce inflammation and promote healing.
  • Maintain good oral hygiene: Brushing twice daily and flossing once daily are essential for maintaining healthy teeth and gums.
  • Schedule follow-up appointments: Regular dental checkups and cleanings are crucial for monitoring your gum health and preventing future problems.


Dental cleaning and scaling are valuable for treating gum disease and promoting oral health. While the procedure might cause temporary discomfort, the benefits outweigh the downsides. By removing plaque and tartar buildup below the gum line, scaling helps prevent the progression of gum disease, which can lead to serious health complications if left untreated. A clean, healthy mouth contributes to fresher breath and a more confident smile. If you’re in Chapel Hill and looking for top-notch dental care, consider visiting Chapel Hill Dentistry for professional and friendly service.

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