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Dental care is often delayed due to other responsibilities. This isn’t unusual, but should be avoided. And if you haven’t had your teeth professionally cleaned for many years, plaque and tartar may have built up considerably.

When this happens, it can be hard for a dentist to examine your mouth’s hard and soft tissues. This can interfere with their ability to fully assess dental health. In this case, a full mouth debridement may be recommended.

A full mouth debridement (FMD) is a nonsurgical procedure done by a dentist or dental specialist like a periodontist. An FMD helps remove extensive plaque and tartar buildup from your teeth and under gums.

Read on to learn more about the full mouth debridement procedure as well as the differences between FMD and other dental procedures you might need.

Full mouth debridement is a first step toward remedying severe plaque buildup or periodontal disease. It’s done in a dentist’s office and typically takes longer to do than a standard teeth cleaning.

Dental plaque is a sticky, slick substance that forms on your teeth every day. When plaque isn’t brushed away daily, it can harden and turn into tartar. You may hear your dentist refer to tartar as calculus.

Hardened tartar creates a surface where plaque can stick. This can create cavities and gum disease (gingivitis). Gum disease can cause infections in your gums, ligaments, and bones of your mouth, called periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease has serious consequences for dental health and may sometimes lead to cardiovascular disease, according to a 2020 research review.

It’s important for your dentist to diagnosis gingivitis and periodontal disease easily. Too much plaque and tartar buildup makes it difficult for your dentist to adequately examine your teeth and gums.

If you have periodontitis, your gums are inflamed, and you probably have periodontal pockets under your gum line. These are spaces between your teeth and gums where plaque and bacteria can lodge.

Since periodontal pockets can’t be cleaned easily, your dentist may recommend a more invasive procedure called scaling and root planing or a deep dental cleaning.

According to the American Dental Association, scaling and root planing may be done under a local anesthetic.

Scaling is similar to a full mouth debridement and removes tartar from teeth, but goes deeper beneath the gums. Root planing refers to smoothing a tooth’s root.

Root planing may be done throughout your entire mouth or in specific areas to help gum tissue reattach to teeth. This closes small periodontal pockets and eliminates areas where bacteria can grow and thrive.

After the procedure is done, antibiotics or an antibacterial gel may be placed directly into the pockets to ensure they remain germ-free.

Will I need scaling and root planing after a full mouth debridement?

You may need scaling and root planing after a full mouth debridement to completely rid your teeth and gums of tartar, inflammation, and infection.

It may also be a necessary first step before more extensive gum surgery is done.

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Here’s the typical procedure for a full mouth debridement:

  1. Your dentist may numb areas of your mouth with a local anesthetic. This will be determined by the extent of tartar buildup under the gum line as well as your personal sensitivity level.
  2. Your dentist will remove the plaque and tartar on and around your teeth with hand-held instruments or with an ultrasonic device that uses vibrations and water to blast teeth clean.
  3. Your dentist may also polish your teeth or recommend additional treatments for more cleaning.

Before an FMD, your teeth may look yellow and discolored. They may also look long if your gums have pulled away from your teeth. Your gums may look white, and bleeding may occur when you brush and floss.

After an FMD, you may feel some irritation and sensitivity. Once this clears, you should notice pink, healthy-looking gums and brighter teeth that fit snugly in their sockets.

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A full mouth debridement or complete oral cleaning removes debris and oral plaque, allowing for healthy teeth without tartar or plaque. Totoro33, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A full mouth debridement usually takes about an hour to do. In some instances, this procedure may be broken up into multiple appointments, scheduled 1 to 2 weeks apart.

A second FMD is referred to as a prophylaxis procedure. During a prophylaxis procedure, additional cleaning of plaque and calculus will be done, and your teeth may be polished.

A subsequent appointment is always needed after full mouth debridement so that your dentist can fully examine your mouth. X-rays will be done to look for cavities and to assess damage to teeth and below the gum line.

This appointment is intended to determine if your mouth is now healthy. Your dentist may recommend practicing good dental hygiene at home and returning for semi-annual dental cleanings.

Your dentist may also recommend a scaling and root planing procedure to further clean your gums and teeth. You may also need a more invasive surgical procedure called flap surgery to close large periodontal pockets.

If you have any teeth that can’t be saved, a tooth extraction may be scheduled.

Practicing good oral hygiene can help you to avoid needing extensive dental procedures, including a full mouth debridement.

Tips to prevent full mouth debridement

  • Avoid eating and drinking sugary substances. Sugary substances stick to your teeth, and promote bacteria growth. If you do indulge, always rinse your mouth with water and brush afterwards.
  • Brush at least twice a day with a soft bristle toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
  • Use an electric toothbrush. Using an electric toothbrush can help you clean between your teeth and under your gum line.
  • Remember to floss. It’s important to floss daily.
  • Avoid smoking, vaping, or chewing nicotine.
  • Contact your dentist twice a year for checkups and cleanings.
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A full mouth debridement is a dental procedure done to thoroughly remove plaque and tartar from your teeth and gums. You may need this procedure if you don’t contact a dentist for several years.

Practicing good oral hygiene can help you avoid a FMD or other extensive dental treatments.