Plaque is soft, sticky, and usually a creamy white colour. It is made up of various bacteria, their by products, and substances they need to live. Think of it as like a little ecosystem of microbes. Plaque can be removed with correct brushing and flossing. If left undisturbed, the bacteria release toxins which irritate your gums, and produce acid which causes tooth decay. Few people will do a completely perfect job of daily plaque removal. Having a scale and clean will get the plaque out from all those nooks and corners that you might be missing.


Calculus, or tartar as commonly called, is different. It is a hard, calcified build-up which can't be removed with brushing and flossing. Calculus is effectively hardened plaque. If any small amount of plaque is left on your teeth, eventually the minerals in your saliva will be deposited in the plaque causing it to become calcified. It's a bit like the deposits you find in the bottom of your kettle. The calculus needs to be removed by a dental professional. This is the "scaling" part of a scale and clean. While the calculus itself doesn't really cause problems, it is extremely porous and rough. It's the perfect haven for plaque & bacteria to accumulate on, so leaving calculus on your teeth causes the same problems as plaque does.


Staining is more an aesthetic problem than a health problem. It sticks to your teeth after contact with things like tea, coffee, red wine, and cigarette smoke. A professional scale and clean will really clean it up if you want your teeth to shine again.

So, how often you need a scale and clean depends on a few things:
  • How thoroughly you brush and floss each day.
  • How fast you tend to accumulate calculus.
  • How much time your teeth spend in contact with things that will stain them.
Scaling and Root Planing Procedures

Dental scaling involves the careful removal of plaque bacteria from the tooth’s surface just below the gumline. There are two basic methods for scaling teeth. If your dentist uses handheld instruments, he or she will scrape plaque from the tooth using a metal tool known as a dental scaler and curette. The dentist will insert this thin tool beneath the gum line to access plaque your toothbrush can’t reach.

Alternately, your dentist may choose an ultrasonic instrument to scale your teeth. This features a vibrating metal tip combined with a cool water spray. The tip chips tartar away as the water flushes out the pocket.

Dental scaling is typically followed by a procedure known as root planing. Root planing reaches deeper to address the surface of the tooth’s root. This is done in the same manner as scaling. Root planing smooths the surface of the root so the gums can reattach properly.

What Does Scaling Feel Like?

Dental scaling can be uncomfortable, particularly if you have sensitive gums. Your dentist may offer a local anaesthetic to numb your gum tissue and make the procedure more comfortable. Speak with your dentist about your options for desensitizing the area if you’re concerned about pain or discomfort during the process.

Dental scaling can take several visits, each one addressing a different portion of the mouth. Some dentists divide the mouth into four quadrants, while others will perform dental scaling in two halves. If you’re nervous about the process, ask your dentist if you can schedule your scaling for a single visit. Though this isn’t an option for all cases, it may be available if you have only moderate gum disease and are willing to sit for a lengthy procedure.

What to Expect Afterwards

Your mouth may feel sore and sensitive after your dental scaling and root planing. Some patients experience swelling or bleeding for a few days following the procedure. Your dentist may suggest a desensitizing toothpaste to help ease this discomfort. You might get a prescription mouthwash to use after the procedure, as well, to help keep the gums clean. It’s crucial that you use proper brushing and flossing procedures after your scaling to stop plaque from forming again in the same areas.

Dental scaling is a very common treatment for patients with gum disease.