While periodontal disease can take on a variety of forms, most are caused by a thin layer of bacterial plaque called biofilm. This layer of plaque will form every 8-12 hours and sticks like glue to your teeth near the gum line. With time, tartar formation occurs at and below the gum line.
If left unchecked, biofilm can give rise to a very unhealthy progression. It first triggers an infection that leads to painful inflammation, progressive bone loss and the gum tissue losing attachment with a tooth. Void spaces (or pockets) form where the gum and bone tissue once adhered; infectious plaque and tartar moves into these pockets and advances deeper to the root. Overcome by disease, the tooth is in danger of being lost.
It’s imperative then to remove as much of this entrenched plaque and tartar as possible. Renewed oral hygiene is not enough — removing plaque and tartar from the root surfaces requires a treatment known as root planing.
Root planing is a meticulous, labor-intensive process. We first clear away larger portions of plaque around the teeth and gums with hand instruments or an ultrasonic device and then flush out the pockets with water. After administering a local anesthetic for pain, we would then turn to a number of small hand instruments known as curettes to probe and scrape away as much remaining plaque below the gum line as we can get to.
Root planing requires experience and a good sense of touch to work in areas that can’t be clearly seen. Observing the gum line, though, can give us a good indication of progress as these tissues will actually change color once the biofilm and tartar deposits have been removed.
Being so deeply entrenched, not all the deposits might be removed during one session. However, as plaque and tartar are removed, the gum tissues will begin to heal and become less inflamed. This will make it easier to remove plaque in subsequent sessions.
Root planing takes time, but the effort is well worth it. In the short term you’ll notice less inflammation and pain around your teeth and gums. In the long-term, it just may save your teeth.
If you would like more information on root planing and periodontal disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Root Planing.”