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Your dentist may say you need a teeth deep cleaning, but what is it and why would you need it? Deep cleanings are recommended primarily after a patient shows signs of gum disease in a Comprehensive Periodontal Evaluation (CPE), which the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) suggests having once a year.

Comprehensive Periodontal Evaluation

How do you know if you’re a candidate for a deep cleaning? Part of a CPE involves the use of an instrument called a periodontal probe to measure the depth of the spaces, or “periodontal pockets,” between your teeth and gums. A normal healthy pocket depth is usually 3 millimeters or less, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). Deeper spaces may indicate signs of gum disease and lead your dentist to recommend a deep cleaning. The probing of the gum tissue is completely painless and a necessary evaluation for every person visiting their dentist.

What Is a Deep Cleaning?

During a regular dental cleaning (sometimes called scaling), your dental hygienist or dentist removes plaque and tartar from your teeth above and below the gumline. Deep cleaning involves the same removal of tartar and plaque at and below the gumline as well as careful cleaning of the roots’ surfaces (called root planing).

If your dentist thinks good oral care at home isn’t enough to manage your mild case of gum disease (called gingivitis), he or she might recommend a deep cleaning. It is almost always the first line of treatment for the more advanced form of gum disease, called periodontitis. Deep cleanings help patients avoid more drastic treatments for gum disease, which if left untreated could possibly lead to tooth loss.

Root Planing

Root planing removes plaque and tartar from these roots and smooths 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 at your dentist’s office. You typically may receive a local anesthetic or numbing gel before the procedure begins.

Root planing may use traditional dental instruments (scalers, ultrasonic cleaner or both) or a laser to remove plaque and tartar. The use of a laser typically causes less bleeding, swelling and discomfort than traditional deep cleaning methods, according to the NIDCR, but it requires specialized training on the part of your dentist. In some cases, a deep cleaning also includes the application of antimicrobials that are placed below the gumline to kill bacteria, according to the AAP.

After Your Deep Cleaning

You may experience soreness, tooth sensitivity or bleeding for a few days after scaling and root planing. Don’t hesitate to see your dentist for a follow-up appointment to check how well your gums are healing and the depth of periodontal pockets.

To prevent the need for another deep cleaning, follow the basic steps to prevent gum disease: Brush your teeth twice a day with a toothbrush such as the Colgate® 360® and an antimicrobial toothpaste, Colgate® Total® Advanced Deep Clean, which targets many bacteria not just those sitting directly on your teeth, and floss once daily. Also, be sure to eat a balanced diet, avoid tobacco and receive regular dental cleanings as recommended by your dentist.