Dental scaling is the most common nonsurgical way to treat gum disease, which is also known as periodontitis.
If your disease is moderate, but not severe, your dentist may recommend scaling to treat the disease and keep it from getting worse. But if you have severe periodontal disease and your condition may require gum surgery, your dentist and periodontist may recommend a scaling and root planing before the surgery, as well as a thorough teeth-cleaning prior to the procedure.
The sticky, bacteria-filled plaque that causes gum disease tends to accumulate in the area along and just below the gum line. If you have gums that are slightly receded from your teeth, you may be at increased risk for gum disease and your dentist may recommend scaling. Scaling is nonsurgical, but it is a different type of procedure from a standard dental cleaning because it involves cleaning the areas of the tooth below the gum line.
There are two types of scaling instruments and some dentists or dental hygienists may use both:
- Scaling with hand-held instruments. Your dentist or periodontist will use a dental scaler and curette to manually remove (scale) the plaque from the teeth. Because the dentist or dental hygienist can't see the plaque, they rely on touch to identify areas of tartar buildup and rough spots.
- Scaling with ultrasonic instruments. Ultrasonic scaling instruments clean plaque from the teeth with a vibrating metal tip that chips off the tartar and a water spray to wash it away and keep the tip cool.