Dentist showing patient an x-ray that depicts why she needs a dental deep cleaning.

What is a Dental Deep Cleaning, and How do You Know You Need One?

Most of the time when you see the dentist you’ll get a routine dental cleaning to remove any tartar buildup and plaque that your regular brushing and flossing couldn’t take care of. Sometimes it takes a little more. That’s where the dental deep cleaning comes in.

Here’s everything you need to know about the procedure and the advantages and disadvantages of deep cleaning teeth.

What is a Dental Deep Cleaning?

A dental deep cleaning is officially called periodontal scaling and root planing. During a routine teeth cleaning, your hygienist focuses on cleaning and polishing the outer surface of your teeth. For a deep cleaning, the focus is on removing the buildup that has accumulated below your gum line and on the surface of the roots of your teeth.

Deep cleaning is one of the methods of treating gum disease. If your teeth don’t get cleaned well on a regular basis, the bacteria found in plaque will inflame your gums. That inflammation causes your gums to pull away from your teeth, creating spaces called pockets. Plaque can then got caught in those pockets.

You can’t remove that plaque with regular brushing and flossing. A dental professional has to remove it. If the problem isn’t addressed, it can lead to tooth and bone loss.

If the issue is addressed early enough, you’ll be able to just get a professional cleaning. You’ll need a scaling and root planing if the pockets have gotten too large, usually defined as 5 mm deep. 

Advantages of a Deep Cleaning

A periodontal deep cleaning has several benefits, the main one being it helps stop the advancement of gum disease. If you don’t remove that tartar from the pockets, the inflammation will continue.

The procedure will also help fight bad breath, promote gum health, prevent tooth loss, and protect the roots of your teeth.

Disadvantages of Deep Cleaning Teeth

There are a few potential disadvantages of deep cleaning teeth. The most common one is some pain and sensitivity after the procedure. You’re also not guaranteed to have your gums reattach to your teeth following the procedure. In rare cases, there’s a risk of nerve damage.

How to Know You Need a Dental Deep Cleaning

The only way to know for sure if you need a deep teeth cleaning is to see your dentist. They will measure the pockets and sometimes take x-rays to determine if there is bone loss already occurring. 

In general, you can look for the following symptoms to decide if it’s possible the procedure could be one that you’ll need:

  • Red and swollen gums
  • Tender or bleeding gums when brushing or flossing
  • Your teeth appearing longer than they used to (signs the gums have receded)

If you are experiencing those symptoms, that’s not a sure sign you need a deep cleaning. Sometimes a routine cleaning is all that’s necessary. It’s important to see your dentist immediately so they can determine the best treatment plan.

Dentist in the process of scaling and root planing while deep cleaning teeth.

Deep Cleaning Procedure

There are two parts to the dental deep cleaning procedure: scaling and planing.

Scaling is done first. During this part, the dental professional will scrape away all of the plaque and tartar that has accumulated in the pockets. They will work their way down until all of it has been removed all the way to the bottom of each pocket.

After the scaling is complete, the root planing will be done. For this part of the procedure, the dentist or hygienist will smooth out the roots of your teeth so the gums have a good space to reattach to.

Many times it will take several appointments to complete the procedure.

Here’s a quick video about the procedure from the American Dental Association:

Deep Cleaning Teeth Aftercare

Pain or sensitivity for a few days or up to a week after the procedure is normal. Your gums may also feel tender or swollen and bleed some.

Your dentist will give you instructions on how to care for your gums based on your condition after the procedure. Your dentist may prescribe medication or a specific mouth rinse to help control any new infection and/or pain. You may also be asked to come in more frequently to have teeth cleanings instead of the usual twice per year. 

A follow-up appointment will also be scheduled so the dentist can check for any new infection and see if further treatment is needed.