With the progression of time, plaque combines with minerals naturally occurring in the mouth to form tartar (also known as calculus). Tatar is much harder than plaque, and much more difficult to remove. Tartar adheres to the rough surfaces of a tooth, especially to the tooth roots, and is an excellent breeding ground for the bacterial plaque that leads to decay, gum disease, and tooth loss.
Dental scaling is the first, non-surgical treatment for gum (periodontal) disease. To begin the scaling procedure, the dentist, hygienist, or periodontist usually numbs the area to be treated to maintain patient comfort. He or then uses a special instrument or an ultrasonic scaler to scrape below the gums and remove the tartar that leads to gum infection, tooth decay, and tooth loss.
Scaling can leave the tooth surface slightly rough, so it is usually followed by root planing. During planing, the dentist or hygienist carefully planes the root surfaces to smooth them and prevent further tartar buildup. Not only does root planing help prevent future buildup, but it also gives the gums a smooth surface on which to heal, which reduces post-scaling irritation.
Scaling and root planing are sometimes referred to as deep cleaning. Some dentists may recommend scaling and root planing as preventive treatments that should be repeated yearly to prevent tartar buildup, even in patients who show no signs of gum disease.