Even if you regularly brush and floss, avoid sugary foods and drinks, and see your dentist twice a year for routine cleanings, your dentist may recommend a deep cleaning. A deep cleaning—true to its name—is a very thorough dental cleaning that gets all the nooks and crannies of your teeth and gums.
Keep reading this guide from Flossy to find out what deep cleaning involves, why it’s so important, and what you can do to keep up your dental health after getting one.
You may be familiar with a regular dental cleaning, which removes plaque and tartar from the teeth and gums. However, the key difference between regular and deep cleaning is that the latter is usually performed when your risk of gum disease is very high. However, some dentists may also perform deep cleanings for low-risk patients to decrease their chances of developing gum disease.
Your dentist will determine your risk by examining your periodontal “pockets,” which are the space between the tooth's crown and its root. Healthy teeth and gums have a “pocket” that measures three millimeters or less. However, with an accumulation of bacteria, they can grow. If they measure five millimeters (or more), your dentist will have to perform a deep cleaning.
A deep cleaning is a multi-step dental procedure that removes deposits of bacteria—known as plaque and tartar—from the teeth and gums. A deep cleaning can also be referred to as periodontal scaling and root planing, which are two separate procedures that are performed when your teeth are deep-cleaned.
Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on top of the teeth and gums. Plaque forms when the food you eat mixes with your saliva, leading to bacteria's growth. Everyone has plaque to some degree; however, some people have too much plaque due to poor dental hygiene, which can lead to various dental issues.
If too much plaque accumulates, it can turn into tartar, essentially plaque that has hardened and discolored. Tartar is one of the leading causes of gum disease, including gingivitis (mild-to-moderate inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (a severe gum infection that can reach the root of the teeth).
A deep cleaning procedure usually requires two visits. The first visit will include periodontal scaling, and the second visit will include root planing. Typically, a local anesthetic will be used to alleviate discomfort. A follow-up visit may be required to make sure that everything heals properly.
The first part of deep cleaning is periodontal scaling, which removes plaque and tartar from deep below the gumline. Compare this to a regular dental cleaning, which removes plaque and tartar only on the surface of your teeth and gums. In addition, your dentist will have to reach into the periodontal “pockets” that have accumulated bacteria in order to remove it.
Because the build-up of plaque and tartar can lead your gums to disconnect from the teeth, the second part of the procedure involves root planing. This will smooth out the root of the tooth and minimize the side of the “pocket” that has formed. This will also help your gums reattach to the tooth.
Both procedures are performed using an ultrasonic scaler, which is an instrument with high vibrational energy. Usually, the biggest pieces of plaque and tartar will be removed first; then, smaller manual scalers will be used to remove small deposits of plaque and tartar around the roots of the teeth.
Manual scalers usually have two ends. One end is pointed and is used to remove bacteria from the part of the teeth directly above the gums. The other end of the tooth is blunter, which allows it to reach areas below the gum line without injuring the soft tissue.
Once the bacteria has effectively been removed from the teeth and gums, your dentist will polish your teeth using an electric instrument. This will leave your teeth smooth and clean, in addition to minimizing the “grooves” that can make bacteria collect on them.
A deep teeth cleaning has many similarities to regular cleaning. However, there are several key differences between them, which is why a regular cleaning cannot be subbed in for a deep cleaning. Here’s how the two procedures differ:
If the buildup of plaque and tartar on your teeth and gums is excessive, then a regular cleaning will not do much to remove it. In this case, a deep cleaning is the only option to restore your dental health and prevent serious gum disease.
A deep teeth cleaning involves two separate procedures. In addition, it might require the use of a local anesthetic to prevent excessive discomfort. Last, it will require you to come in for a follow-up to heal properly. On the other hand, a regular dental cleaning takes about ten minutes and requires only one visit.
A deep cleaning can come with a few side effects. Although these should subside a few days after the procedure, you may experience some pain, swelling, and soreness. In addition, it’s not uncommon to feel increased sensitivity for several weeks after deep cleaning. As such, you might have to see your dentist for a follow-up appointment to make sure that you are healing properly.
In general, your dentist will best be able to tell you if you need a deep cleaning. After manually examining your teeth and taking a dental X-ray, they’ll be best able to assess your dental health. If you have any mild gum disease called gingivitis, your dentist will probably recommend a deep cleaning.
Even if you don’t have gum disease, your dentist might recommend a deep cleaning if there is a severe bacteria buildup around your teeth and gums. While a routine cleaning may be enough to address this issue, it can sometimes leave lingering bacterial deposits on your teeth and gums. In contrast, a deep cleaning will do a much more thorough job.
Another sure reason you will need a deep cleaning is if you have “pockets” surrounding the teeth that measure five millimeters or more. This is a severe form of gum disease that needs to be addressed before it progresses into a more severe condition. If left untreated, it can begin to affect the bone and other supporting structures of the teeth.
It’s hard to diagnose on your own whether you need a deep cleaning. For this reason, it’s important to see your dentist for regular check-ups to be periodically assessed by a professional. What’s more, if you keep up with regular cleanings, you’re much less likely to need a deep cleaning in the future.
There are several reasons why deep cleaning your teeth is so important for your dental health. Here are the top three reasons:
You can prevent gum disease by keeping up a consistent at-home brushing and flossing routine and seeing your dentist for regular cleanings twice a year. However, this sometimes may not be enough to prevent gum disease.
Once you develop gum disease, you have to get it treated by a dentist. They will remove deep-set pockets of bacteria around your teeth and gums. Doing this will prevent your gum disease from progressing to a more harmful condition while effectively treating your existing gum disease.
Even if you don’t have gum disease, you can have a significant build-up of tartar—which is plaque that has hardened and calcified. While removing plaque at home is easy, it’s not possible to remove tartar at home with simple brushing and flossing.
Because this substance is unusually hard, you will need your dentist to use professional scaling tools to remove tartar deposits. A deep cleaning is the best—and only—way to get rid of tartar.
Even if you don’t have gum disease or another serious dental condition, you can still greatly benefit from getting rid of plaque and tartar on your teeth.
Because these bacterial deposits tend to accumulate and leave a yellowish tint on your teeth, getting a deep cleaning can make your teeth look much whiter. What’s more, your mouth will feel much cleaner. This can go a long way in motivating you to keep up a consistent at-home routine.
Because a deep cleaning is a more thorough procedure, it has some mild side effects. However, these are only temporary and should go away after about a week.
The most common side effects of a deep cleaning are inflammation, swelling, and pain—you should feel these the most immediately after the procedure. You might also experience some minor bleeding. These side effects should go away on their own within a few days; however, you can increase how quickly you heal by rinsing with warm salt water, eating healthy, and staying away from cigarettes.
A week after a deep cleaning, your teeth may feel more sensitive (although sometimes this can last several weeks). For many people, this is just a minor side effect that is negligent when compared to the benefits of a deep cleaning. However, if it gets uncomfortable, there are many at-home remedies that you can try to relieve.
In some cases, people with compromised immune systems may be at increased risk of an infection after a deep cleaning. If this applies to you, then your dentist might prescribe antibiotics for several days after the procedure to reduce your chances of complications.
After your dentist performs a deep cleaning, your gums and teeth will be free of bacterial deposits. With the proper at-home routine, you can keep it that way. Try the following tips to keep plaque and tartar at bay:
After a deep cleaning procedure, following these tips should be more than enough to keep your teeth and gums in top condition. That said, if anything looks wrong, one of Flossy’s dental professionals will be able to diagnose it in no time and get you the proper treatment ASAP.
If you have a severe buildup of plaque and tartar, you very likely need to see your dentist for a deep cleaning.
If you don’t have dental insurance or are worried about whether or not you’re covered, let Flossy help you find a deep cleaning service at a discount. With our network of dental professionals, you’ll get a high-quality deep cleaning at a fraction of the cost.