What Happens at a Deep Teeth Cleaning?

What Happens at a Deep Teeth Cleaning?
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What Happens at a Deep Teeth Cleaning?Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Why Deep Teeth Cleaning is Necessary
  2. During a Deep Teeth Cleaning
  3. Deep Teeth Cleaning is Good Oral Health
  4. References

Even if you get regular cleanings from your dentist, you may need a deep cleaning. The medical term for this process is scaling and root planing, and it can seem unpleasant.

Your dentist will need to use several tools to remove deep-seated plaque so you avoid tooth decay, and this will require local anesthetic to keep you comfortable. You may be worried if you need this procedure, but it is important to know that it is common and only recommended when necessary.

Why Is Deep Teeth Cleaning Necessary?

Scaling and root planing are deep, thorough types of cleaning that have been part of dentistry for decades. They are well-studied techniques and known to be effective at reducing oral hygiene problems, including eliminating gingivitis.

This procedure is minimally invasive and nonsurgical. You may spend more time in your dentist’s office than during a routine cleaning, but this safe procedure can keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Infection in the gums starts with too much build-up of plaque and calculus (tartar) on the teeth. Even regular brushing and flossing do not eliminate all the potential build-up, especially if you are genetically predisposed to this condition or have other oral hygiene struggles.

This build-up can become gingivitis, which is a mild type of gum disease. It can cause red, inflamed gums that bleed more often after brushing. If gingivitis is not removed, this can become more serious periodontal disease.

Scaling and polishing are common, routine procedures that you may need a few times throughout your life. The practice is one of the best ways to remove disease and reduce the risk of it coming back.

Your regular dentist and dental hygienist can perform preventative scaling and root planing or deep cleaning. An advanced or complex case may require specialized dentists or periodontists.

Deep cleaning is a specific type of dental cleaning that removes plaque and addresses periodontal disease like gingivitis and periodontitis.

What Happens at a Deep Teeth Cleaning?

Your dentist will not simply begin a deep cleaning procedure without diagnosing whether it is necessary. This requires a trip to the dentist, during which they will examine your teeth and gums, take x-rays, and evaluate the depth of the spaces between your teeth and gums, which can expand when infection is present. When the spaces between teeth and gums, called the sulcus, are larger than 3 millimeters, your dentist will recommend a deep cleaning.

During the deep cleaning procedure:

  • You will receive a local anesthetic, which may be topical gel or an injection, depending on how sensitive your teeth are, how serious the plaque build-up is, and how long the procedure will take.
  • Your dentist will use a small scaler or ultrasonic cleaner to break up and remove the plaque in each periodontal pocket.
  • Another tool will smooth or plane the surfaces of your teeth to remove superficial plaque to reduce further build-up around the roots.
  • Later-stage gum disease may require deep plane scaling, periodontal surgery, or laser surgery in addition to the deep cleaning.
  • More serious periodontal disease may require multiple deep cleanings, as the dentist focuses on one quadrant of the mouth at a time.

Once the cleaning is complete, your dentist will explain some follow-up care. For example, you will need to wait until any numbing agent wears off before eating and drinking. You may also need to wait a few hours after anesthetic wears off, to ensure that gums heal, before eating or drinking anything, especially something that might be hot or cold. You may experience pain in your teeth for a day or two and have sensitivity for about a week, but these should go away.

You will also schedule a follow-up appointment for a few days or a couple of weeks after the deep cleaning, so your dentist can be sure that there is less plaque build-up, your gums are healing well, and your periodontal pockets are becoming smaller.

Deep Teeth Cleaning Is One Part of Good Oral Health

You may worry if you hear deep cleaning or scaling and planing from your dentist, but ultimately, this type of cleaning is important to your overall oral health. Rest assured that it is a common, beneficial procedure.


A Re-Evaluation of Scaling and Root Planing. (March 2021). Journal of Periodontology. Date fetched: April 30, 2021.

Scaling and Root Planing. Mouth Healthy from the American Dental Association. Date fetched: April 30, 2021.

Non-Surgical Periodontal Treatment. American Academy of Periodontology. Date fetched: April 30, 2021.

Routine Scale and Polish for Periodontal Health in Adults. (December 2018). Cochrane. Date fetched: April 30, 2021.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.