A deep cleaning is actually a specific procedure performed to treat gum and periodontal disease. It's often done because a person has not had regular professional cleaning appointments every six months.
The dental hygienist will use an instrument called a probe to measure the area around your teeth to see if you have any pockets (area between the tooth and gum where bacteria will form). The depth of the gum tissue between the teeth and gums are called pockets.
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Who needs a deep cleaning?
Ideally, normal healthy pockets will be no more than 3-4 millimeters deep. If the pockets are deeper than 5 millimeters, you might be advised to do a deep scaling and root planing appointment.
Scaling involves removing plaque and tartar from the surface of the teeth and from the pocket area between the teeth and gums. Deep cleanings can be performed by scaling and root planing using ultrasonic instruments and/or manual scaling tools.
Root planing removes plaque and tartar from the roots of your teeth and smooth out the root's rough spots where bacteria collect, helping remove the bacteria that contribute to gum disease and giving the gums a smooth surface to reattach. Root planing may take one to two hours over several visits with the dental hygienist.
Ideally, after the deep cleaning appointment, the bacteria in the pockets of the teeth will be removed and in the next few weeks the gums should become healthier if the patient maintains a good oral hygiene at home.
We all have a lot of bacteria in our mouths. Those bacteria form sticky plaque on teeth, which is removed by daily brushing and flossing. Plaques that don’t get brushed away can harden and form a substance known as tartar, which can only be removed with a dental cleaning. When tartar remains on the teeth, it can cause inflammation of the gums, a condition called gingivitis, characterized by red swollen gums that can bleed easily.
Gingivitis can usually be reversed through regular brushing and flossing along with regular cleanings. Gingivitis occurs when the bacteria living in the plaque along your gums release toxins. Those toxins trigger an immune response that leads to inflammation. Your gums become red and puffy and they bleed easily. It's like a tight sleeve on a shirt, if you're not cleaning plaque out on a regular basis, that collar gets stretched out further and further and the plaque goes deeper and deeper.
Usually, gingivitis will clear up once the dental hygienist scrapes off the plaque during your regular cleaning and oral hygiene improves with daily brushing and flossing.
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If gingivitis isn’t cured, it can advance to a more severe form of gum disease called periodontitis, in which the inflamed tissue begins to pull away from the teeth, forming spaces, or pockets. As the pockets become deeper, more of the tooth below the gum line is exposed to bacteria, which can damage the bone holding the teeth in place.
If good oral care at home isn't enough to manage your mild case of gum disease you might be recommended a deep cleaning. It is usually the first line of treatment for the more advanced form of gum disease, called periodontitis.
With periodontitis, the inflammation in your gums has become so severe that there is bone loss around the teeth. The resulting bone loss is apparent in visible gaps that form along your gums, and your teeth can become loose. Left untreated, your teeth might eventually fall out.
The bone loss from periodontitis is irreversible, making it easier for plaque to creep back under your gums and cause more inflammation. If you're diabetic or a smoker, you generally have reduced blood flow to your gums that diminishes the region's ability to heal, and you might need to come in more frequently for follow-ups—as often as every three months. The idea is to get all of the bacteria removed from the pockets of your teeth, allowing the gums to heal and stay healthy.
Deep cleanings help patients avoid more drastic treatments for gum disease, which if left untreated, could possibly lead to tooth loss.
To prevent the need for another deep cleaning and prevent gum disease:
- Brush your teeth twice a day and floss or use an interdental brush once daily.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Avoid tobacco.
- Receive regular dental cleanings as recommended.
If the deep cleanings aren't enough to reverse periodontal disease, seeing a periodontist for a consultation and the possible need for gum surgery should be considered.
Although it’s a serious condition, periodontal disease is preventable and treatable. Here are three things to know about gum disease and deep cleaning of your teeth.
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Many people with gum disease are not aware of the problem. Often the disease is painless. Common signs are:
- Gums that are red, swollen and bleed easily
- Pus around the teeth and gums
- Persistent bad breath
- Your teeth look like they’ve been getting longer as the gums recede.
- Teeth are sensitive
- Loose teeth
Schedule a checkup and cleaning appointment with your dental professional every six months. They will remove plaque, polish tooth surfaces, and check the healthiness of gum tissue with a periodontal probe. This helps determine if gums have pulled away from teeth, bleed easily or have pockets that may have formed around the teeth. Periodontal pockets deeper than 4 to 5 millimeters may indicate the presence of disease. It’s important to remove the bacteria to prevent tooth loss.
For patients with deep periodontal pockets, and those with chronic gum disease, it may be recommended that they do a deep cleaning which involves scaling and root planing.
- Scaling – During the procedure, a dental professional will remove plaque and tartar, a buildup of a yellowish-brown mineral, along and under the gums. These areas are not easily reached with regular tooth brushing, flossing or regular dental cleanings.
- Root planing – This procedure involves cleaning the tooth roots using dental to remove rough spots where bacteria can collect. This helps clean out bacteria that can lead to more serious gum problems.