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Dental hygiene can fight bad breath and prevent gum disease. So it’s important to regularly brush and floss, and see a dentist twice a year for routine dental cleanings.

Sometimes, though, a dentist will recommend deep teeth cleaning. Signs that you might need a deep cleaning include bleeding gums, receding gums, and loose teeth. Although a deep cleaning — also called periodontal scaling or root planing — is common, it has its risks.

Here’s what you need to know about deep cleaning teeth, including the disadvantages of this procedure.

A deep teeth cleaning can remove a buildup of plaque and tartar on your teeth, reducing gum inflammation and improving gum health.

Plaque is a sticky film that forms on teeth. It contains bacteria and develops when food particles mix with saliva. You can remove plaque, which collects on teeth daily, by brushing your teeth.

Brushing, however, doesn’t remove all plaque in between your teeth. Leftover plaque calcifies or hardens, which forms tartar.

The accumulation of plaque or tartar can lead to gum disease. This includes gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gums. If left untreated, gingivitis can advance to periodontitis. This is a serious infection that destroys the bone that supports the teeth.

You might need a deep cleaning if gum disease causes your gums to pull away from your teeth, creating a space greater than 5 millimeters (mm) deep.

If gum disease worsens, the space between your gums and teeth can continue to widen. This can weaken the bones that support your teeth, causing loose teeth or tooth loss.

If your dentist recommends a deep cleaning, benefits of this procedure include:

  • stopping the advancement of gum disease.
  • treating a current infection and promote healing
  • cleaning your teeth above and below the gumline
  • eliminating bad breath caused by gum disease
  • protecting the roots of your teeth

Although deep cleaning can treat gum disease, the procedure has its risks. Disadvantages of deep cleaning teeth include:

  • can cause nerve damage
  • doesn’t guarantee the reattachment of your gums to your teeth
  • may cause your gums to recede
  • possible infection if you have a compromised immune system
  • pain and sensitivity

Pain and sensitivity are the most common side effects. Risks from deep cleaning are usually minimal and only last about 5 to 7 days, though for extensive cases, this may extend to a few weeks.

Deep teeth cleanings differ from routine teeth cleanings. Regular cleaning removes plaque and tartar from above the gumline. A deep cleaning, on the other hand, removes plaque and tartar from below the gumline.

Gum disease causes a space or gap between your teeth and gums, where tartar and plaque can become trapped. Cleaning below the gumline removes this buildup.

Deep cleaning involves gum scaling and root planing

Deep cleanings usually take place over two or more visits and involve gum scaling and root planing. Each visit can take 1 to 2 hours.

The tooth scaling appointment is when your dentist removes plaque and tartar from below the gumline. During the root planing visit, your dentist removes plaque and tarter that forms on the roots of your teeth. This helps reduce the size of the space between your teeth and gums, helping your gums reattach to the teeth.

You may need to take antibiotics

If your immune system is compromised, you might have to take an antibiotic for a few days. That’s because there’s a risk of infection after the procedure. In addition, deep dental cleanings can sometimes release bacteria into the bloodstream.

Is deep cleaning painful?

Teeth scaling and root planing can cause some discomfort, so you’ll receive a topical or local anesthetic to numb your gums.

You can expect some sensitivity after your treatment. Your gums might swell, and you might have minor bleeding, too.

How to reduce sensitivity after the procedure

Eating soft foods (yogurt, applesauce, or mashed potatoes) for a few days after your procedure can help reduce sensitivity. You should also avoid extremely hot or cold foods and drinks.

Taking over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can reduce inflammation, as well as rinsing with warm salt water.

Brushing and flossing on a regular basis promote healing and reduce further gum inflammation. Use a soft bristle toothbrush at least twice per day, and floss at least once per day.

The cost of deep cleaning varies depending on the severity of gum disease or inflammation.

You’ll likely have two visits, although some people might need up to four visits to completely remove tartar and plaque. During these cleanings, your mouth is considered in quadrants. You can pay $100 or more per quadrant depending on where you live or how much treatment you need.

If you have dental insurance, most plans cover deep cleanings.

A deep teeth cleaning helps get rid of bad breath and promotes healing of gum disease. Deep cleanings do have risks, so it’s important to understand possible complications or side effects.

Although a common, safe procedure, you can expect some sensitivity and swelling afterward. If swelling, bleeding, or pain continues for more than a week after your procedure, see your dentist.