What’s the difference between deep cleaning and regular cleaning at the dentist?

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Maintaining oral hygiene is essential for good oral health and preventing decay, cavities & gum disease. We achieve this by diligently brushing our teeth twice and flossing once daily. Additionally, you go to your dentist or dental hygienist once or twice a year for a more thorough regular dental clean. However, there may come a time when your dentist recommends that you get a deep clean, also known as periodontal scaling or root planing.

The difference between regular and deep dental cleaning

During a regular dental clean, your dentist removes all plaque and tartar (calculus) from your tooth surfaces at or above the gum line. However, with a deep clean, plaque and tartar are removed from below the gum line.

Treatment times differ also. Regular cleaning usually lasts between 20 minutes to an hour, whereas deep cleaning can take from 1 to 2 hours. Generally, the time spent getting your teeth cleaned depends on the severity of plaque and tartar build-up.

When do you need deep cleaning?

If you make regular visits every 6 months to the dentist for a regular clean, you probably won't ever need a deep clean. By keeping on top of plaque and tartar above the gum line, you can prevent them from progressing down your teeth below the gum line. However, if you've left it too long and plaque has started invading the space between your teeth and gums, you may need a deep clean.

Deep cleans are important at this stage because you now have oral bacteria developing in tiny periodontal pockets (or spaces) between your teeth and gums. Left untreated, you are at high risk of experiencing inflammation, gingivitis and periodontal disease (gum disease).

Good reasons to avoid getting gum disease

Periodontal disease affects approximately 25% of Australian adults of all ages on average. The risk of this chronic disease increases with age, rising to 40% for those aged 55 years or over. If you have untreated periodontal disease, it can lead to:

  • receding gums
  • gum tissue loss
  • bone loss
  • tooth loss
  • loose and moving teeth
  • systemic infection

How does deep cleaning treat gum disease?

Deep cleaning is an essential part of treatment for patients with moderate to severe gum disease. There are two stages to a typical deep clean:

  1. Scaling – this procedure removes all the plaque and tartar below the gum line to the bottom of the periodontal pocket. In severe cases, where periodontal pockets are 6mm or more in size, scaling may be required all the way to the bottom of the affected tooth's root.
  2. Root planing – this finishing procedure involves the smoothing out of the tooth root surface. This helps connective gum tissue to regrow and reattach the gums to the tooth root, thus restabilising and supporting the tooth optimally once again.

Aftercare for deep cleaning treatment

There is some aftercare required after a deep cleaning. You may experience some pain for a couple of days and your teeth may be sensitive for up to a week. However, your dentist has you covered. They can prescribe pain meds, antibiotics, mouth rinse or insert medication into the periodontal pockets if required. Your healing process will also be monitored and assessed at a follow-up visit.

Good home oral care and hygiene is also essential to ensure your gums heal completely and
prevent plaque and tartar from redeveloping below the gum line.

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