Teeth Scaling vs. Dental Cleaning: Know the Difference

dental instruments on tableEveryone knows the importance of a regular dental cleaning. As plaque and tartar build up on your teeth, your gums become inflamed and the accumulation can quickly lead to the development of gum diseases, such as gingivitis, or even tooth loss. In a dental cleaning, your hygienist uses a scaler to remove plaque and tartar around your gum line and between the teeth, but sometimes this is not enough. Once the space between your teeth and gums grows to a certain size—or you experience loose teeth, or bleeding or receding gums—you may need to consider a deep cleaning, also known as teeth scaling.

What Happens While Deep Cleaning Teeth?

When plaque and tartar build up to the point where your gums become inflamed, the gums may begin to recede and cause “pockets” to form between the teeth and the gums. If these pockets become too deep, plaque and tartar start to amass below the gumline, and cannot be removed by a regular dental cleaning. In a teeth scaling procedure, your dentist removes plaque and tartar from both above and below the gumline, deep cleaning teeth and stopping the advance of gum disease. In a follow up procedure, your dentist will then perform a root planing. In this procedure, the dentist removes plaque and tartar from the roots of your teeth, helping your gums reattach to your teeth.

Should I Get a Deep Cleaning?

Although in cases of advanced gum disease, you may have no choice but to undergo teeth scaling, the procedure isn’t one that should be undertaken if it isn’t necessary. A “deep dental cleaning” may sound like an upgrade over a regular dental cleaning, however, deeper isn’t always better when it comes to teeth cleaning. Teeth scaling and root planning require:

  • Time commitment. The deep cleaning procedure generally involves at least two visits, which may take up to two hours each.
  • Teeth sensitivity and swollen and bleeding gums. These are common conditions following a teeth scaling, but usually dissipate within 5 to 7 days.
  • Risk of infection. This risk is relatively low, but may be considerably higher among patients with a compromised immune system.
  • Cost. Although more expensive than a regular dental cleaning, teeth scaling may be covered by dental insurance.

Rather than assume you need a deep dental cleaning, it’s better to discuss your concerns with your dentist and let them tell you what you actually need.

Final Considerations

The best approach to dental health is prevention. If you want to avoid the complications involved with teeth scaling, it is essential to brush your teeth twice a day, floss regularly, avoid tobacco, and see your dentist regularly. While daily dental hygiene cannot fully prevent the buildup of plaque on your teeth, proper at-home care, along with a twice-yearly dental cleaning, will go a long way towards preventing the development of gum disease—and the need for teeth scaling!


Temple Family Dentistry has been delivering dazzling smiles for many years, and is here to provide personalized care for your dental needs. Schedule an appointment or contact Dr. Dan DeRosa for a tooth whitening consultation today.