What to Expect From Scaling and Root Planing – Is It Painful?

November 24, 2021

As a rule of thumb, brushing your teeth, flossing in between, and rinsing your mouth at least twice a day regularly can prevent many oral diseases. If you have not visited a dentist in a couple of years, you may have built up a high amount of plaque from daily eating and drinking. Because of that, you might notice a slight change in your gum line or tooth placement. It is important to schedule a visit right away. That could mean you have gum disease and will need to schedule a tooth scaling and root planing procedure as a result.

What Is Gum Disease?

Chronic periodontal disease, more commonly called gum disease, is a more severe buildup of plaque on the surface of teeth. That plaque harbors bacteria that inflame the gumline. That bacteria causes the gums to pull away from the tooth, creating pockets. Those pockets become new locations for additional bacteria to set up shop where general toothbrushing cannot clean. Pockets can become accidental food particle storage that can severely impact the general health of your mouth, potentially causing bad breath.

How to Treat CPD – What Is Scaling? What Is Root Planing?

There are two methods that can help handle the disease once diagnosed. You may have heard of tooth scaling and root planing, usually considered one procedure instead of two. Think of the procedure as a super deep cleaning, something more in-depth than the biannual cleaning most insurances cover.

Tooth scaling is specifically scraping the plaque off the tooth’s surface, above and below the gum line, with a specialized tool designed for the job. Root planing is smoothing the tooth’s surface beneath the gum line to allow for better adhesion between the bone and tissue using the same or a similar styled tool. In comparison, a standard cleaning uses a hook pick to investigate potential sites for cavities while scaling and planing to remove plaque.

Appointment Details

Because gum disease cases vary from person to person, the procedure of scaling and planing may require multiple visits or be dealt with in one visit. Sensitive cases and those with receding gums may require a local anesthetic to clean with as little discomfort as possible. Whether more than one appointment or anesthesia is needed, tooth scaling and root planing are considered outpatient procedures that can be done at a dentist’s office. General recovery time for the procedure is usually a few days to a week.

Potential Problems

If you do not treat it, chronic periodontal disease can cause a handful of highly irritating problems, such as moving or loose teeth, tissue and bone loss, and tooth loss. This can mean treatments are less effective or take longer. It can impact your overall health as oral pain can be excruciating for what seems like such a small location. Studies have revealed that oral pain affects nearly half the U.S. adult population over 30 years old.

Potential Causes

Some potential causes for oral disease include poor dental hygiene, smoking, aging, changes in hormones, poor nutrition, family history, and other medical conditions. Clients who have deep pockets formed between gums and teeth from chronic periodontal disease may also experience other symptoms, such as bad breath; bleeding gums; inflamed, tender, or red gums; permanent teeth shifting; and a change in their bite.

Additional Treatments

With some stubborn and severe cases, Dr. Dhiraj Sharma may recommend a possible additional treatment, depending on the health of your teeth and gums. The use of antimicrobial agents may be required to aid the procedure. That means it is possible to receive an oral antibiotic prescription to encourage healing afterward. It could be a paste or a rinse that disinfects and cleans the area in addition to your standard oral care routine. Another option is to use host modulation. This is a specific medication designed to correct the negative effects of long-term periodontitis or reduce possible infection following the procedure.

The Process of Scaling and Planing

In either case, traditional dental tools are used for the procedure, such as the scaler and the curette. Some more modern professionals utilize lasers or ultrasonic devices to achieve the same results. If the disease is severe enough, your dentist may recommend full-mouth disinfection. Through extensive studies, the traditional procedure is the “gold standard” treatment for periodontal disease.

Deep Cleaning Goals

The goal of the treatment is to reduce pocket gaps. Studies have shown that this reduces the risk of tooth, bone, and tissue loss from gum disease.

Does It Hurt?

As with many outpatient procedures, you may have area soreness that can last for a few days to a week. If you notice a worsening pain, a lack of healing where the procedure occurred, or a fever, get a hold of your dentist immediately.

No Risk, No Reward

This is a fairly common procedure that is also low risk. One of the major risks of scaling and planing is not scheduling an appointment on time. Gum disease can progress to an irreversible stage without a deep cleaning. This can lead to loose teeth or the loss of teeth if it becomes that advanced.

With all procedures that are more invasive than routine care, there are some risks involved. Because gum disease involves bacteria, if it enters the bloodstream, it can cause an infection, and those with low or compromised immune systems will be at a higher risk.

Many of the risks considered with scaling and planing procedures are temporary and in response to the treatment. There is usually a follow-up procedure to check how well your gums are healing and if the pockets have shrunk or not. At this appointment, you and your dentist can determine the best method of handling your specific case.

Those with this disease can confer with their dentist about the procedure and whether to use a local anesthetic or antimicrobial agents. Any use of anesthesia or medication can cause a reaction. It is important to keep your dentist up to date with your health regarding the use of medications.

The Bottom Line on Pain and Discomfort

This procedure is not considered painless. However, it is not particularly painful. It can be uncomfortable and cause sensitivity and tenderness to the gums. This is an expected result from having the scaling and planing procedure. You may even be prescribed an oral antibiotic to prevent infection.


Dr. Sharma would recommend you resume your normal oral care routine, eat a healthy balanced diet, and visit regular cleanings. With chronic periodontal disease, the schedule will change to a visit every three to four months versus the traditional six months. Of course, the main takeaway here is that tooth scaling and root planing sound a lot worse than they are.

To continue treating chronic periodontal disease, you may need to change your daily oral hygiene methods. Better oral health can be supported with regular cleanings at the dentist, and it is even more important to floss because it can reach the places a toothbrush is unable to.

Things to Remember

Because this disease is very manageable, those diagnosed with it can worry less about the problems and focus more on the positive results from the cleaning treatment available. Tooth scaling and root planing can be the easiest way to prevent plaque from developing further oral problems. Some who can catch early signs of plaque buildup may even prevent the need for this particular treatment with proper tooth brushing, thorough flossing, and rinsing routines.

For more information or to make an appointment with our dental office in downtown Chicago, contact us today!



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