Root Planing to the Rescue
What does it mean when your dental hygienist recommends root planing? To put it simply, root planing is a method of cleaning the roots of your teeth in order to avoid periodontal (“peri” – around, “odont” – tooth) disease.
Periodontal disease happens when dental plaque, a biofilm of bacteria, is not regularly removed and begins to build up on teeth near the gum line. The bacteria cause inflammation, and this in turn causes the gum tissue to detach from the teeth. The widening spaces between the gum tissue and the teeth, called pockets, are environments in which bacteria can continue to collect and cause further inflammation and infection. Ultimately, this can lead to infection, bone loss, and loss of teeth.
Root planing is a technique designed to avoid such dire results. The bacteria, along with products they manufacture as part of their metabolism, can become ingrained in the surfaces of the tooth's root (the part of the tooth that is below the enamel). These bacterial products will form hard deposits called tartar or calculus.
Deep Cleaning Your Teeth
Of course, the best idea is to brush and floss away the plaque before the bacteria begin to build up on your teeth. If this is not done and pockets begin to form, the bacteria and toxic products are more difficult to remove in order to deep clean your teeth.
The first step is scaling. My hygienist or I will remove superficial collections of calculus. If material still remains within deep pockets, root planing is the next step. It involves actually planing the surface of the root, smoothing the surface free of calculus, bacteria, and toxins that have ingrained into the root surfaces.
Root planing is most often done under local anesthesia so that you remain comfortable while the cleaning procedures are done. The initial cleaning may be done by an ultrasonic instrument that vibrates particles off the root surfaces and flushes the pockets with water. Small hand instruments called curettes are used to finish the process. Antibacterial medication may then be used to help clear away infection from the pockets. Sometimes you may experience some tooth sensitivity to hot and cold after the root planing. If needed, this can be treated by applying fluoride to the root surfaces.
Depending on the extent of your gum disease, it may not be possible to remove all the deposits at one appointment, and it may be necessary to have multiple appointments over a few weeks to remove the remaining deposits. Often after three to four weeks the inflamed tissues have healed, leaving you with healthy gums once again.