Scaling_RootPlaningWhat Is It?

The technical term for periodontal therapy is scaling and root planing. Scaling and root planing is the most common and conservative form of treatment for periodontal (gum) disease.

Scaling is the removal of calculus (commonly called tartar) and plaque that attach to the tooth surfaces. The process especially targets the area below the gum line, along the root.

Plaque is a sticky substance, full of bacteria, that forms on teeth. When plaque hardens over time, it is called calculus.

Plaque is more likely to stick to rough surfaces. For this reason, the root surface is made smooth in a process called root planing. Root planing removes any remaining calculus and smooths irregular areas of the root surface.

What It’s Used For

Bacteria cause periodontal disease. Plaque and calculus provide an irregular surface that allows these bacteria to attach easily. Scaling and root planing are done to remove the plaque and calculus. For early stages of the disease, this treatment may be all that is needed to get the condition under control. This is especially effective with gingivitis. With more advanced gum disease, scaling and root planing may be the first step before surgery.

How It’s Done

Scaling and root planing are done with a combination of ultrasonic scalers and hand instruments. Ultrasonic instruments are electric or air-powered. They have two components:

  • A relatively dull metal tip that vibrates at a very high frequency and “knocks” plaque and calculus off the tooth
  • A water irrigation system that cools the tip and helps to flush out debris from around the teeth
  • Hand instruments are not powered. They have cutting edges that your dentist or hygienist uses to chip away plaque and calculus.

These instruments come in various shapes and sizes. Different instruments are used for different teeth, and even for different surfaces of the same tooth.


Typically, ultrasonic instruments are used first to remove large deposits of plaque and calculus from the crowns and roots of the teeth. Hand instruments called scalers and curettes are then used to remove any remaining material and make sure that the tooth surface is clean and smooth.

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