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A periodontal cleaning, more commonly referred to as a deep cleaning, is a treatment for gum disease. It’s more thorough than a regular dental cleaning and has a different purpose.
People with gum disease have built-up tartar deposits on their teeth and underneath their gums. These deposits must be removed to treat gum disease and prevent it from worsening.
After removing tartar, a periodontal cleaning may also include polishing the roots of the teeth and applying medication under the gums, both of which can help prevent bacteria and tartar from returning.
While regular cleanings help keep the teeth and gums healthy, periodontal cleanings treat gums that have started to suffer from periodontitis.
Even if you’re in relatively good oral health, you may have small amounts of plaque and tartar. Regular cleanings can easily remove these, and people often get these routine cleanings twice a year.
A periodontal cleaning goes a step further, removing large deposits of tartar from above and below the gum line. It can also include root planning (polishing) and antibiotics placed directly into the gums.
Regular cleanings, also called prophylactic cleanings, are provided by general dentists and hygienists. While deep cleanings can also be completed by general dentists and hygienists, they are more likely performed by periodontists. These dentists specialize in treating periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease, or gum disease, refers to infection and inflammation of the gums and underlying bone tissue. It may affect well over half the world's population.1
The disease starts with harmful oral bacteria forming plaque on your teeth and gums. Without regular brushing and flossing to remove this soft plaque, it will harden into tartar. This provides shelter for the destructive bacteria that infect your gums.
In early-stage gum disease (gingivitis), your gums may be tender, red, and bleed easily. If left untreated, the disease can progress to a more severe stage known as periodontitis. This can involve:
In severe cases, periodontitis can cause you to lose your teeth altogether. If you have symptoms of progressive gum disease, a periodontal cleaning can help prevent it from reaching this point.
Early-stage gum disease, known as gingivitis, can be reversed with prompt treatment. In some cases, improved oral hygiene may be enough to cure gingivitis.
Unfortunately, once gum disease has advanced, it may not be possible to restore lost gum and bone tissue fully. However, various surgeries and restorative procedures exist to help manage gum disease and prevent it from worsening.
If you’re already in good oral health, you can prevent gum disease by:
Periodontal cleanings take place at your dentist or periodontist's office. While it isn’t a surgical procedure, it can cause discomfort. Your dentist or periodontist will offer local anesthesia to help prevent this.
In some cases, the procedure is divided into multiple appointments. This makes each appointment less time-consuming and prevents you from having your entire mouth numbed in one appointment.
The first part of the deep cleaning process is known as scaling. Using a specialized scaler or ultrasonic tool, your periodontist will remove tartar (calculus) from your teeth and gums.
Once the scaling is complete, your dentist may perform root planing. This gives the roots of your teeth a smooth, glassy finish that can make it harder for tartar to reattach to your roots.
Root planing may not be necessary for all people undergoing a deep cleaning. Many periodontists will simply remove tartar from the tooth roots instead.2
After the tartar has been removed from the teeth and gums, your dentist may recommend additional treatment. One newer treatment for gum disease is called host modulation.
Host modulation involves applying a small amount of antibiotics directly to your gums. The dosage is so small that rather than killing bacteria, the antibiotics simply improve the way your gum tissue responds to the infection.3, 4, 5
Your periodontist may also prescribe you oral antibiotics (for the normal purpose of killing bacteria). These not only fight the infection in your gums but also prevent any issues caused by oral bacteria entering your bloodstream.6
You may also need surgery following a periodontal cleaning if you have severe gum disease that does not respond to the deep cleaning.
A deep cleaning or gum surgery will likely be followed by periodontal maintenance. This means the dentist or periodontist will have you visit them regularly to monitor and clean your gums.
To keep gum disease from becoming worse again, you’ll need to do your part by maintaining good oral hygiene. Your dentist will want to ensure that you brush and floss regularly.
After a periodontal cleaning, you may experience pain, bleeding, and sensitivity for a few days. These should subside within a few days. If they don’t, speak to your dentist.
You may also notice black triangles in between your teeth. This is because the tartar covering these spaces has been removed.
A more serious concern is the cleaning causing oral bacteria to enter your bloodstream.6 A life-threatening infection can develop if you have a weak immune system or another medical condition, such as a fake heart valve.
Your dentist may prescribe oral antibiotics to prevent such an infection. They may also recommend or prescribe pain medication if you experience pain or soreness following the cleaning.
A deep cleaning to treat gum disease may cost between $600 and $1,800 (between $150 and $450 per quadrant). This is before insurance and may vary widely depending on your treatment needs.
Since periodontal cleaning is considered a medically necessary treatment for gum disease, your insurance may cover 50% or more of the total cost.
Periodontal cleaning is a common procedure performed to treat gum disease. Like a routine cleaning, it removes plaque and tartar. But periodontal cleaning is more thorough and can include additional steps.
This procedure is often performed by periodontists, who are experts in gum disease. Oftentimes, general dentists and hygienists can perform it as well.
If you have symptoms of gum disease, including receding, swollen, or bleeding gums, talk to your dentist. They can either provide treatment or refer you to a periodontist.
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