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Updated on September 14, 2022

Full Mouth Debridement - Procedure, Costs & Prevention

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What is Full Mouth Debridement?

Full mouth debridement is a non-surgical dental procedure. It removes plaque and tartar (also known as dental calculus) that cover your teeth and gums.

Dental plaque is sticky and often hard to see. But when plaque is allowed to accumulate over time, it can harden or calcify, forming tartar. By debriding your teeth and gums, tartar is broken up and removed.

This procedure may be the first step before proceeding to other treatments. It is typically used as a diagnostic procedure to better visualize the teeth and determine a treatment plan. 

shot of an ultrasonic scaler held by dentist

Is a Full Mouth Debridement Necessary?

Full mouth debridement will probably be necessary if you have a lot of hardened tartar on your teeth and gums. Tartar is made up of:1, 2, 3

  • Accumulated minerals
  • Bacteria and other microorganisms  
  • Other materials, such as food 

Tartar deposits can build up at the gumline and in the spaces between your teeth and gums. These deposits can:

  • Contribute to infection and inflammation (gum disease)
  • Increase your risk of tooth decay
  • Make your gums and tooth roots hard to see (which makes their condition hard to diagnose)

Gum disease, in turn, can be associated with other health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.4

With tartar covering your gums and the roots of your teeth, your dentist can’t diagnose and proceed with other treatments you may need. Your risk for gum disease is higher, and the extent of any possible damage is hidden.

Once this tartar has been removed, your teeth and gums will be more accessible. You and your dentist can then move forward with definitively assessing and treating any conditions you may have. 

Full Mouth Debridement Procedure

The process of full mouth debridement may take as long as one hour and will look like the following:

  1. Your dentist will examine the buildup of tartar and determine how extensive it is
  2. They may provide you with local anesthesia, especially if there is a lot of tartar below the gumline
  3. Using handheld tools such as scalers (which have fine, narrow ends) and curettes (which have blunt ends), your dentist will break up and remove the tartar
  4. Your dentist may use an ultrasonic scaler, which uses vibration to help remove tartar

Full Mouth Debridement vs. Other Cleaning Procedures

A full mouth debridement isn’t the same as a routine prophylactic cleaning (or prophy). It’s also distinct from scaling and root planing, which is a deep cleaning used to treat gum disease.

The main purpose of a full mouth debridement is to clear away excess tartar so that your dentist can assess the condition of the teeth and gums underneath.

Routine cleanings, on the other hand, are mainly preventative and handle tartar that sits above the gumline. If you have good oral hygiene, these regular cleanings also won’t be as intensive because there will be less tartar buildup in the first place.

Scaling and root planing involves more work than a full mouth debridement and may even be performed one quadrant of the mouth at a time.5, 6 Your dentist may decide that you need scaling and root planing after a full mouth debridement.

Is a Full Mouth Debridement Painful?

In short, no. If the extent of the debridement reaches deep into the gums, local anesthesia should prevent any pain you would feel.

After the Procedure

After a full mouth debridement, you’ll want to maintain a clean and healthy mouth with good oral hygiene. The procedure is effective at reducing harmful oral bacteria, but they may return over the following months.7

Once debridement has been completed, your dentist may want to move on to other treatments if you show signs of advancing gum disease.

In some cases, debridement will be followed by scaling and root planing, which removes harder-to-reach tartar deposits under your gums and smooths the surfaces of your tooth roots.

However, root planing is somewhat invasive and can remove viable tissue from your tooth roots. Full mouth debridement with an ultrasonic scaler can provide a less invasive alternative in those who cannot undergo scaling and root planing for medical reasons.8

How Much Does Full Mouth Debridement Cost?

Full mouth debridement may cost between $75 and $150 without insurance. If there is more tartar below the gumline, you may need an additional deep cleaning (scaling and root planing), which can cost between $1000 and $4000 without insurance.9

Insurance Coverage

Dental insurance can provide at least partial coverage for debridement and deep cleaning treatments. If you do need a deep cleaning, you might still need to pay a few hundred dollars out of pocket.9

Contact your insurance provider to know what specific procedures your insurance will cover (and by how much).

How to Prevent the Need for a Full Mouth Debridement

To prevent the need for a full mouth debridement or other intensive cleanings, you’ll need to prevent tartar from building up in the first place. You can do this by:10, 11, 12, 13

  • Brushing your teeth properly
  • Flossing regularly
  • Maintaining a high intake of vitamins and micronutrients
  • Limiting refined carbohydrates in your diet
  • Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
  • Seeing your dentist regularly for checkups and routine cleanings

All of these things can help reduce dental plaque and prevent it from hardening into tartar.

Note that the importance of routine cleanings depends on your situation. There isn’t enough evidence to say whether or not they’re helpful for people who already have good oral health.14, 15

However, these routine cleanings won’t cause harm, and insurance providers typically cover two a year. And during these visits, your dentist will have the opportunity to assess your overall oral health and possibly prevent future problems.

With that in mind, talk to your dentist about your specific needs and concerns.

Summary

Full-mouth debridement is a non-surgical dental procedure that removes tartar buildup. It may be performed independently or as the first step in a deeper cleaning procedure, such as scaling and root planing.

Large deposits of tartar are associated with gum disease and need to be removed for any damage to your teeth and gums to be assessed. You can prevent this buildup in the first place by maintaining good oral hygiene.

Talk to your dentist if you have questions or concerns about debridement, scaling, or other treatments for gum disease.

15 Sources Cited
Last updated on September 14, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Velsko, Irina M et al. “Microbial differences between dental plaque and historic dental calculus are related to oral biofilm maturation stage.” Microbiome, 2019.
  2. Warinner, C et al. “Direct evidence of milk consumption from ancient human dental calculus.” Scientific reports, 2014.
  3. Blatt, S.H. et al. "Dirty teeth and ancient trade: Evidence of cotton fibres in human dental calculus from Late Woodland, Ohio." International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 2011.
  4. Corliss, J. “Treating gum disease may lessen the burden of heart disease, diabetes, other conditions.” Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Medical School, 2014.
  5. Farman, M. and R.I. Joshi. "Full-mouth treatment versus quadrant root surface debridement in the treatment of chronic periodontitis: a systematic review." British Dental Journal, 2008.
  6. Wennström, Jan L et al. “Full-mouth ultrasonic debridement versus quadrant scaling and root planing as an initial approach in the treatment of chronic periodontitis.” Journal of clinical periodontology, 2005.
  7. Schulz, Susanne, et al. "Nonsurgical Periodontal Treatment Options and Their Impact on Subgingival Microbiota." Journal of Clinical Medicine, 2022.
  8. Ciantar, Marilou. "Time to Shift: From Scaling and Root Planing to Root Surface Debridement." Primary Dental Journal, 2014.
  9. "How Much Does Teeth Cleaning Cost?" CostHelper Health.
  10. Kinane, Denis F. et al. "Periodontal diseases." Nature Reviews Disease Primers, 2017.
  11. Dahlen, Gunnar, et al. "Current concepts and an alternative perspective on periodontal disease." BMC Oral Health, 2020.
  12. Najeeb, Shariq et al. “The Role of Nutrition in Periodontal Health: An Update.” Nutrients, 2016.
  13. Woelber, JP, et al. “An oral health optimized diet can reduce gingival and periodontal inflammation in humans - a randomized controlled pilot study.” BMC Oral Health, 2017.
  14. Bader, Jim. "Insufficient evidence to understand the effect of routine scaling and polishing." Evidence-Based Dentistry, 2005.
  15. Lamont, Thomas, et al. “Routine scale and polish for periodontal health in adults.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 2018.
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