What Is Deep Cleaning, and Is It Important?

Deep cleaning gets rid of plaque and tartar that has collected around the teeth below the gumline. It is used to treat gum disease in its early or advanced stages. The procedure may be carried out by a dentist or a dental hygienist, and local anesthesia is normally used to numb the area being treated. Patients who have had periodontitis or advanced gum disease and have suffered bone loss need regular deep cleaning, but the procedure also helps to improve overall health and dental hygiene.

What Is Deep Cleaning?

Deep cleaning is a regular dental procedure which is used to clean tartar and plaque from the teeth and from the area between the teeth and the gums. It is most often recommended for patients who haven’t been making regular dental appointments every six months and have developed gum disease as a result. Gum disease happens due to a buildup of tartar and plaque on the teeth and between the teeth and gums, which then takes a special procedure to remove.

Technical Terms

The technical name for the procedure is root scaling and planing. When dentists do an evaluation during a checkup, they look at the space between the teeth and gums for “pockets” which form if there is a buildup of bacteria and plaque. Deeper pockets indicate the presence of bacteria. An instrument called a probe is used to measure pocket depth.

Normal pockets are up to 3 millimeters deep, but if they exceed 4 or 5 mm in depth there may be bacteria present and the dentist will recommend a deep cleaning. In some cases, the procedure may be limited to badly affected areas, while in others all the teeth will need to be deep cleaned.

Why It’s Needed

 A very large number of people suffer from gum disease at an early or advanced stage: sometimes without being aware of it. According to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of all adults in the US have some form of gum disease. While the signs of gum disease are obvious in some cases, in others it may be diagnosed only through an evaluation by a dentist. This is why annual evaluations are recommended by the American Academy of Periodontology.



How Is This Cleaning Different From Ordinary Cleaning?

graphic illustration of how deep cleaning of teeth is done

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People sometimes get confused about the differences between regular teeth cleaning done by dentists and deep cleaning. The purpose of the two procedures is quite different. Regular teeth cleaning by a dentist is done simply to maintain dental health. It is normally done every six months.

Deep cleaning, on the other hand, is recommended for someone suffering from periodontitis and is intended to cure the condition. There are some similarities in the procedures, however. Both processes involve scaling, but deep cleaning includes planing as well and is much more thorough.


Treating Gum Disease

Deep cleaning is used to treat gum disease in both the early and advanced stages. The early stage of gum disease is known as gingivitis and results in red and inflamed gums that bleed easily. This is caused by the bacteria that collect in the pockets between teeth and gums. This can be treated relatively easily by a professional cleaning, which should be followed up by maintaining good oral hygiene.

A more advanced stage of gum disease is periodontitis, which can do irreversible damage to tissue and bone structure in the mouth. It can lead to bone loss along the gums, causing teeth to become loose and even fall out. Root scaling and planing can clean out the plaque and food particles causing the problem, giving the gums a chance to heal and form a tight seal around the teeth once again.

Sometimes the signs of gum disease are evident. These symptoms include bad breath, loose teeth, and bleeding or swollen gums that pull away from the teeth. In other cases, it may not show at all, and an evaluation by a dentist is needed to determine if treatment is needed.


What to Expect

This is an established dental procedure that has been in use for decades. At the start of each session, the patient will be given an injectable local anesthetic to numb the area to be treated. As the name root scaling and planing implies, the deep cleaning process has two parts.


Scaling is like a regular cleaning and involves removal of plaque from the tooth surfaces and the pockets. Planing uses a scaling instrument to clean at the roots of the teeth. The procedure can be done by a dentist or a dental hygienist.


Various instruments are used, including hand instruments called scalers and air-powered or electric ultrasonic instruments. Ultrasonic cleaners use vibrations to force plaque and tartar off the teeth. This removes larger deposits of tartar and plaque, and the remaining bits are chipped away by the dentist with the handheld scaler.


Any loose debris remaining in the area is washed away using the water irrigation system. At least two visits are needed to complete the procedure. It can take about 45 minutes to deep clean each quadrant, or the upper left and right and lower left and right sections of your mouth. The sensation can be uncomfortable, but local anesthetic is used to numb the area being treated.


After each session, the area treated may be sore around the gums. Over-the-counter painkillers can be used, and if needed, the dentist can prescribe stronger painkillers. Some doctors will also prescribe antibiotics to speed up the healing process. The teeth and gums may become temperature sensitive and some patients may experience bleeding.

Patients may be advised to avoid solid foods for a day or two. Salt water rinses can ease the discomfort, and brushing and flossing of sore areas may be avoided for a few days. The soreness should subside in two or three days. In some cases, it may take up to one week. If it lasts longer, a doctor should be consulted.

Once the procedure is completed, a follow-up visit may be scheduled to check on dental health. Follow-up visits will also check whether bacteria have returned to the pockets and monitor general dental health. The patient will be given directions for dental care between deep cleanings.


What Are the Benefits?

Root scaling and planing are used as a treatment for gum disease and periodontal disease. They can also be recommended for patients who have missed the recommended dental visits every six months and have a significant buildup of plaque and tartar. There are several other benefits of regular deep cleaning, from improving overall health to preventing tooth loss.

Overall Health

Medical research has established that there is a strong connection between dental health and the overall health of the individual. Poor dental hygiene can result in serious diseases like cardiovascular diseases. It can also complicate chronic conditions like diabetes and some digestive problems. Regular root scaling and planing can help to avoid these and identify early warning signs of life-threatening diseases.

Treating Gum Disease and Preventing Tooth Loss

As discussed above, root scaling and planing are used to treat advanced gum disease. This can prevent the loss of bone density in the areas where the teeth are rooted. This can also help to prevent the teeth from becoming loose and falling out. Gum disease can also be painful, and the procedure can help prevent that.

Whiter Teeth and Fresher Breath

A regular schedule of deep cleaning can help to keep teeth white and healthy and the gums clean and fresh. Getting rid of plaque and bacteria makes it easier to have fresh breath. Whiter teeth and fresh breath play an important part in generating greater self-confidence and self-esteem, which has a positive impact in every area of life.


How Often Should You Have a Deep Cleaning?

a woman holding a photo of a person with clean white teeth

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Dentists recommend deep cleaning at least once a year. In some cases, more frequent treatments may be necessary. Patients who have a history of periodontitis may have to go back for the procedure as often as every six months. That’s because the bone loss from the disease is irreversible and leaves gaps between the teeth and gums which must be cleaned regularly.

For patients who are diabetic or who smoke, deep cleaning every three months may be necessary. Both these condition reduce blood flow to the gums and consequently slow down the gums’ ability to heal. In general, dentists can recommend the best schedule for root scaling and planing based on individual needs.


Deep cleaning is used in the treatment of early and advanced gum disease. The procedure is performed under local anesthetic and will take two or more visits to the dentist to complete. It has several other benefits besides treating gum disease. It helps to improve overall health, appearance and self-confidence. The right schedule for each patient is as recommended by a dentist after an evaluation.

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