For healthy teeth and gums, it’s important to see your dentist at least twice yearly for regular cleaning. This lets them perform a thorough checkup and address the bacteria that are hard to clean with just a regular toothbrush.
A regular dental cleaning can help to stave off tooth decay and lower your risk of getting gum disease. Plus, it gives you a clean and sparkly smile. But what happens if you let too much time go by since your last cleaning?
For starters, you might experience a lot more bacterial accumulation than usual. You might need a more invasive procedure known as deep cleaning to get rid of it.
In this guide from Flossy, we explain what a deep cleaning exactly is and why it might be necessary for your dental health.
What Is a Dental Deep Cleaning?
A dental deep cleaning is a multi-step procedure that removes bacterial deposits from the teeth and gums. It’s done when a type of bacteria — called tartar — builds up on the teeth and gums.
Tartar is a hardened deposit of plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that everyone has in some amounts. If plaque is not removed regularly by brushing and flossing, it can turn into tartar.
Tartar is one of the leading causes of gum disease, including gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (a severe infection that can lead to tooth loss). Unfortunately, removing tartar at home is nearly impossible. Once these hard deposits form on the teeth and gums, a deep cleaning is a must.
What Happens During a Dental Deep Cleaning?
The dental deep cleaning procedure is composed of two parts: periodontal scaling and root planing. These two processes essentially scrape away bacteria and smooth out the teeth. They are usually spread across two visits, though a follow-up appointment may be needed if there are complications during the procedure.
Periodontal scaling is typically done at the first visit when your dentist will remove plaque and tartar. Using a special tool, they will reach deep below the gum line. While this can feel painful, it’s essential for getting to those hard-to-reach bacterial “pockets.”
Periodontal scaling uses an ultrasonic scaler, which vibrates at a high frequency. First, they’ll remove large pieces of plaque and tartar from the gums and teeth. Next, smaller manual scalers — without vibration — will be used to get around the gum line.
The second visit will cover root planing, which smooths the root of the teeth. This is done because plaque and tartar buildup can lead the gums to detach from the teeth. Root planing can help the gums to reattach again.
During the second visit, your dentist will also polish the surface of your teeth. This will leave your teeth feeling smooth and greatly minimize the “grooves” that bacteria can collect in.
What’s the Difference Between Deep Cleaning and Regular Cleaning?
- Only Deep Cleaning Can Remove Tartar
- Deep Cleaning Is More Complex
- Deep Cleaning May Have Side Effects
- Deep Cleaning Is Not Done Frequently
Deep cleaning and regular cleaning may be similar, but they are certainly not interchangeable. Below, we’ll go over the main differences between these two procedures.
Only Deep Cleaning Can Remove Tartar
Regular cleaning is important for keeping your teeth healthy and maintaining good oral hygiene. With the help of a small mirror and a manual scaler, your dentist or dental hygienist will carefully and methodically remove plaque from the teeth.
However, if the plaque accumulates and turns into hardened tartar deposits, regular cleaning may not be effective. Only deep cleaning can do the job in cases of severe bacterial buildup.
Deep Cleaning Is More Complex
Regular cleaning is a short procedure done in one visit. However, a deep cleaning can take up three visits: one for periodontal scaling, one for root planing, and one for a follow-up. In some cases, deep cleaning might even require a local anesthetic to prevent pain and discomfort.
Deep Cleaning May Have Side Effects
Some dentists schedule a deep cleaning follow-up to address potential side effects like pain, swelling, and sensitivity. While these effects should subside in several weeks, it’s still a good idea to see your dentist so they can make sure you’re healing properly.
Deep Cleaning Is Not Done Frequently
Given its intensive nature, a deep cleaning is only done when absolutely necessary. However, regular cleaning can and should be done every six months, and some people may even get their teeth cleaned more often than that.
Deep Cleaning Side Effects
Although deep cleaning is a standard dental procedure, it’s not completely without its risks. The most common deep cleaning side effects include:
- Bleeding gums
These side effects are felt most strongly immediately after the procedure and should gradually subside over several days. For some people, though, recovery can take a few weeks.
Some people are less likely to experience side effects than others. For instance, those who eat healthily, avoid smoking and get plenty of restorative sleep are more likely to heal faster than those who don’t have such lifestyle behaviors.
In addition, the right at-home care routine can also speed up healing. For instance, experts have shown that rinsing with warm salt water can significantly increase wound healing. While a deep cleaning won’t cause large wounds, it can still lead to tiny wounds in the surrounding gum tissue.
Some people may have compromised immune systems, which can increase their risk for infection following a deep cleaning. If that’s the case for you, your dentist might prescribe antibiotics after the procedure.
To prevent complications, make sure to discuss underlying health conditions with your dentist before undergoing any procedure.
Why Is It Important To Deep Clean Teeth?
Deep teeth cleaning is necessary to improve dental hygiene for those with a significant buildup of plaque and tartar.
If left untreated, these bacterial deposits can reach the tooth root and cause the tooth to fall out. In extreme cases, the bacteria can even reach the bone, which may cause bone loss.
Although rare, untreated tooth or gum infections can spread to other parts of the body like the face. If the infection reaches crucial organs like the heart, it can lead to severe complications and even death.
Hardened deposits of plaque and tartar cannot be removed at home with simple brushing and flossing. Their removal requires the specialized tools that a dentist uses to get around the gum line and into bacterial “pockets” that a regular toothbrush cannot reach.
Deep cleaning is also important for prevention. During the second part of the deep cleaning procedure, your dentist will smooth out the tooth surface, making it harder for bacteria and tartar to build up again in the future.
Do I Need a Deep Cleaning?
For those without dental insurance, it may be tempting to delay or avoid a recommended deep cleaning. However, you’ll want to be on the lookout for certain signs and symptoms of serious dental problems.
As a rule of thumb, if it’s been more than a year since your last cleaning, you can expect your dentist to recommend a deep cleaning. But you can also look at the condition of your teeth and gums to get an idea.
Some potential signs that you need a deep cleaning include:
- Bad breath or a foul taste or smell in your mouth
- Loose permanent teeth
- Red, swollen, or painful gums
- Bleeding from the gums
- Gums that pull away from the teeth
Your Dentist Knows Best
Even if you know the signs of dental problems and don’t believe you have serious issues, your dentist is still the best person to decide if you need a deep cleaning. Using tools like probes and X-rays, your dentist will ascertain your overall dental health and make recommendations starting from there.
A sure sign that you have significant tartar buildup is if you have “pockets” surrounding the teeth. These are essentially spaces in the gum line that grow because of bacteria.
If the pockets measure more than five millimeters, then it’s a sign of gum disease that can quickly have serious side effects if left untreated. For instance, gum disease is linked to bone loss.
Even if you don’t have gum disease or another serious dental problem, you’ll still need to seek dental care and get a deep cleaning if there’s a lot of bacteria around the teeth and gums. While some people get lucky and can get away with regular cleanings, others may need a more invasive procedure.
We know that life can get the best of anyone, and it’s not always possible to keep track of your dental appointments. But seeing your dentist for regular checkups can be one of the best ways to catch issues like tartar buildup before they become a serious problem.
How Much Does a Deep Cleaning Cost?
Depending on your location, a deep cleaning can cost between $150 and $350 — although the price may be even higher if your condition is severe and requires anesthesia. If anesthesia is involved, you may be looking at upwards of $1,000 for the procedure.
So, if you don’t have dental insurance, should you just skip out on a dental deep cleaning?
Not so fast. In the next section, we’ll go over other ways you can pay for a deep cleaning.
Ways To Pay for a Deep Cleaning
If you don’t have dental insurance, all is not lost. Here are some of the best ways to finance your deep cleaning:
- In-house financing: Ask your dentist if they offer a payment plan. Usually, these tend to have 0% interest and can be spread out over a long period — up to 18 months.
- Healthcare credit: Some third-party financing institutions can give you a credit line for qualified procedures. These are popular because they often have a low-interest rate (if any at all). Ask your dentist to connect you with their favorite healthcare credit company.
- Dental school: If the cost of a professional deep cleaning seems too steep, then a dental school can offer a significant discount — sometimes as much as 70%. Because licensed dentists closely supervise dental students, you can be sure you’re in safe hands.
- Flossy: Our award-winning app can connect you with a low-cost dentist. With our pay-as-you-go membership, you’ll be getting discounts as high as 50% on deep cleanings.
Deep cleaning is necessary to maintain oral health if you have tartar deposits on your teeth and gums.
If it’s been a while since your last visit to the dentist, don’t risk tooth decay and gum disease — let Flossy connect you with a low-cost dentist for deep cleaning. Find a dentist near you today using our app.