Treating periodontal (gum) disease is rather straightforward: remove the bacterial plaque that causes the disease. The techniques to accomplish this are varied, depending on how far the disease has advanced with an individual patient.
Plaque is a thin film of bacteria and food particles that build up on tooth surfaces due to inadequate oral hygiene. The bacteria that grow there can cause an infection that inflames and damages the gum and supporting bone tissues to the point they begin to lose their attachment to the teeth and form spaces known as periodontal pockets. In time, plaque becomes calcified due to the minerals in saliva, forming calculus or tartar. As the disease advances, it can ultimately cause tooth loss.
The most common technique for interrupting this progression of disease is known as scaling. Using hand instruments and/or an ultrasonic device, we remove as much plaque and calculus as we can detect on the outer surfaces of the teeth and gum tissues. Scaling, however, won’t address the plaque and calculus that has accumulated at the tooth root level, especially where pocket formation has taken place. This is where root planing may be necessary.
As the name implies, we use this procedure to literally “plane” plaque and calculus from the roots, a similar concept to removing thin layers of wood from a board. If necessary, we will first numb the affected area so that we can perform the procedure in a meticulous manner without causing discomfort. It’s essential we remove every bit of plaque and calculus that we can, especially where it has become lodged deep at the base of the pockets.
It’s common to start with ultrasonic therapy, using vibration to loosen the plaque while flushing the pockets with water. We then switch to delicate hand instruments known as curettes to physically remove any remaining plaque and calculus. An experienced touch helps us determine when the root surfaces have been properly cleaned; we can also “read the gum tissues,” as they will slightly change color as the offending plaque and calculus deposits are removed. As the gum tissues heal and become less inflamed, they return to a healthy pink color and the pocket depths generally become smaller as the inflammation leaves the area.
While a good portion of the treatment requires our professional skills, equipment and expertise, the bedrock for renewed periodontal health is effective daily oral hygiene on your part. Working together we can preserve the progress already made, while continuing to progress in restoring your oral health.
If you would like more information on root planing and other periodontal disease treatments, 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.”