Plaque is a sticky substance that adheres to tooth structure and is teeming with bacteria. Over time, plaque hardens and becomes calculus. Plaque and calculus are irritants to the tissues of your mouth and result in periodontal disease. The earliest stage of periodontal disease is gingivitis (which is reversible) and is characterized by bleeding gums, especially when brushing and flossing. If the disease is not addressed, it may progress to periodontitis, which is far more destructive, and characterized by further gum deterioration, bone loss, and ultimately tooth loss.
Scaling and root planing are the most common forms of treatment and prevention of periodontal disease. Scaling removes calculus (also called tartar) and plaque from the tooth surface above and below the gum line. Root planing smoothes the root's surface and removes any remaining calculus. The area may numbed to make the procedure comfortable when the amount of plaque and calculus to remove is extensive, or for patients with sensitive teeth. A combination of sonic and hand instruments are used. The sonic instruments remove the large deposits of plaque and calculus. Hand instruments are then used to remove any remaining tartar and ensure all surfaces of the crown and root are clean and free of bacteria. Sensitivity and soreness may be present a few days following treatment.
The goal of scaling and root planning is to eliminate the active inflammation caused by bacteria and reduce the periodontal pockets around the teeth thus maintaining the bone height around the teeth.