What is a Deep Cleaning at the Dentist? | Comprehensive Guide

A deep cleaning or dental cleaning at the dentist, also known as scaling and root planing, is a more intensive dental procedure compared to a regular cleaning. It is designed to treat gum disease and prevent it from advancing to more severe stages. Understanding what a deep cleaning entails, why it is necessary, and what to expect during and after the procedure can help alleviate any concerns and highlight its importance in maintaining oral health.

Understanding Gum Disease

Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a common condition that affects the gums and bone supporting the teeth. It starts as gingivitis, characterized by red, swollen gums that may bleed easily. If left untreated, it can progress to periodontitis, where the gums pull away from the teeth, creating pockets that can become infected. This infection can lead to bone loss, tooth loosening, and eventually tooth loss.

  1. Plaque Buildup: The primary cause of gum disease is the buildup of plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth. If not removed through regular brushing and flossing, plaque can harden into tartar, which requires professional cleaning to remove.
  2. Poor Oral Hygiene: Inconsistent brushing and flossing habits allow plaque to accumulate, increasing the risk of gum disease.
  3. Smoking: Tobacco use significantly increases the risk of gum disease and impairs the healing process.
  4. Genetics: Some individuals are genetically predisposed to gum disease.
  5. Medical Conditions: Diseases like diabetes can increase the risk of developing gum disease due to reduced resistance to infections.

What is a Deep Cleaning?

A deep cleaning or teeth cleaning, or scaling and root planing, is a two-part procedure used to treat periodontal disease. Unlike regular cleanings that focus on the surfaces of the teeth, deep cleanings target the areas below the gumline to remove tartar and bacteria from the tooth roots.


Scaling involves removing plaque and tartar from the tooth surfaces and below the gumline. Dentists or dental hygienists use specialized tools to reach areas that are difficult to clean with a toothbrush or floss. This step is crucial in reducing the bacterial load and preventing further progression of gum disease.

Root Planing

Root planing smooths out the root surfaces of the teeth, making it more difficult for plaque and bacteria to adhere. This process also promotes the reattachment of the gums to the teeth, reducing the depth of periodontal pockets and improving overall gum health.

When is a Deep Cleaning Necessary?

Deep cleanings are typically recommended for patients showing signs of gum disease, such as:

  1. Gum Inflammation and Bleeding: Persistent redness, swelling, and bleeding of the gums indicate gingivitis, the early stage of gum disease.
  2. Periodontal Pockets: When gums pull away from the teeth, they create pockets that can become infected. Periodontal pockets deeper than 4 millimeters usually require deep cleaning.
  3. Bone Loss: X-rays showing bone loss around the teeth are a sign of advancing periodontitis and a need for more intensive treatment.
  4. Bad Breath: Chronic bad breath that doesn’t improve with regular brushing and flossing can be a sign of gum disease.

The Deep Cleaning Procedure

Understanding what happens during a deep cleaning can help ease any apprehension about the process.

Initial Examination

Before starting the deep cleaning, the dentist conducts a thorough examination, including measuring the depth of the periodontal pockets and taking X-rays to assess bone loss. This evaluation helps determine the extent of the disease and plan the treatment accordingly.

Local Anesthesia

To ensure comfort during the procedure, the dentist administers local anesthesia to numb the area being treated. This helps minimize any pain or discomfort associated with scaling and root planing.


Using specialized instruments such as ultrasonic scalers and hand-held tools, the dentist or hygienist removes plaque and tartar from the tooth surfaces and below the gumline. This step can take some time, especially if there is significant tartar buildup.

Root Planing

After scaling, the dentist smooths out the root surfaces to remove bacterial toxins and prevent further plaque accumulation. This process encourages the gums to reattach to the teeth, reducing pocket depth and promoting healing.

Post-Procedure Care

Proper care following a deep cleaning is essential for healing and maintaining the benefits of the procedure.

Immediate Aftercare

  1. Sensitivity: It is common to experience some tooth sensitivity and gum tenderness after the procedure. This usually subsides within a few days.
  2. Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage any discomfort. Your dentist may also recommend a prescription mouth rinse to reduce inflammation and prevent infection.
  3. Dietary Restrictions: Avoid hard, crunchy, or sticky foods for a few days to prevent irritation and allow your gums to heal.

Long-Term Care

  1. Oral Hygiene: Maintaining excellent oral hygiene is crucial. Brush twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush, floss daily, and use an antimicrobial mouthwash if recommended by your dentist.
  2. Follow-Up Appointments: Regular follow-up visits are necessary to monitor healing and ensure that the gums are reattaching properly to the teeth. Your dentist may recommend more frequent cleanings initially to prevent the recurrence of gum disease.
  3. Lifestyle Changes: Quitting smoking, improving your diet, and managing conditions like diabetes can significantly reduce the risk of gum disease recurrence.

Benefits of Deep Cleaning

The benefits of a deep cleaning extend beyond the immediate improvement in gum health.

Preventing Tooth Loss

By treating gum disease early, deep cleanings can prevent the progression of the disease to a point where tooth loss becomes inevitable. This helps preserve your natural teeth and avoid the need for dentures or implants.

Reducing Inflammation

Deep cleaning reduces the bacterial load and inflammation in the gums, improving overall oral health and reducing the risk of systemic conditions linked to gum disease, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Improving Breath

Removing plaque and bacteria from below the gumline helps eliminate the sources of chronic bad breath, leading to fresher breath and increased confidence.


A deep cleaning at the dentist, or scaling and root planing, is an essential procedure for treating gum disease and preventing its progression. While it is more intensive than a regular cleaning, the benefits of a deep cleaning are substantial, including the prevention of tooth loss, reduction of inflammation, and improvement of overall oral health. Understanding when a deep cleaning is necessary, what the procedure involves, and how to care for your teeth afterward can help you maintain a healthy, vibrant smile. Regular visits at NYC Dental Lounge and good oral hygiene practices are key to preventing gum disease and ensuring long-term oral health.