If you go too long between cleanings and don't take care of your teeth well, you can end up with receding gums that form pockets, where the gums no longer touch your teeth's roots. If your gums and teeth get to that point, a regular cleaning won't do; your dentist will have to do a procedure called scaling and root planing to help your gums heal. It's similar to cleaning but more involved, and it can be a bit tough on your gums. The good news is that it shouldn't be horribly painful, but you could end up needing some anesthesia, and you will likely have some soreness to deal with.
What Are Scaling and Root Planing and Why Are They Done?
When your gums form pockets against your teeth’s roots, plaque can build up in those pockets and start to cause the bone to deteriorate. To clean out the pockets, the dentist (or dental assistant) will do something called scaling. That's just the removal of all the plaque, including the stuff under your gums in those pockets. Then you have root planing, which is when the dentist smoothes out any rough patches on your teeth so that the gums have a smoother surface to reattach to.
Do They Hurt?
Yes and no. The procedures require getting under your gums, which can be painful for some people and not painful for others. You can discuss local anesthesia with the dentist before undergoing the procedure, especially if the procedure will require additional visits. (If you need scaling and planing on both jaws, for example, you'll likely have to come back for a separate appointment for the other jaw.) After the procedure, don't be surprised if your gums are sore.
How Should You Care for Your Mouth After the Procedure Is Done?
Brush and floss as usual, albeit more carefully if your gums are sore. You might have a prescription mouthwash or antibiotic to take to help ward off infections and help your gums heal. You should go back for follow-ups to be sure the gums have reattached as planned and to see if there are lingering issues.
It's very possible that you'll have to have more frequent cleanings for a while. Those both keep plaque away from the spots where the gums had receded and allow your dentist to see what's going on with your gums as a whole. After a while, you should be able to go back to a regular schedule of cleanings twice a year.
Scaling and root planing aren't fun, and your dentist will want you to be comfortable. They can be painful for some, but that may vary, and your dentist can let you know whether you might benefit from local anesthesia. Follow your dentist's instructions after the procedure carefully to help your gums heal as quickly as possible. Scaling and root planing may seem difficult, but the results can be a return to health and the end of about with gum disease.