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 more likely to stick to rough surfaces. For this reason, the root surface is smoothed down in a process called root planing. Root planing removes any remaining calculus and smoothes irregular areas of the root surface.
Scaling and root planing are done with a combination of ultrasonic scalers and hand instruments. Ultrasonic instruments are electric or air-powered.
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. When working under the gum line, your dentist or hygienist cannot see the plaque or calculus. He or she will rely on the sense of touch to feel for roughness on the root surface.
Sometimes, scaling and root planing can be completed in one visit. This usually is possible if you have gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. However, if you have periodontitis, multiple visits are usually needed.