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How to Treat Early Gum Disease

If you ever need treatment for gum disease, there's a good chance you'll undergo a procedure called scaling and root planing. This two-part process is the first line of defense, and dentists use it in mild cases and even for patients who might later require surgery.

Scaling is the removal of tartar and plaque from tooth surfaces, with special attention to the area below the gum line on the root. Root planing ensures the tooth's root surface is smooth.1,2

Dentists want all surfaces of teeth smooth so it's harder for plaque to stick to them.2 Plaque is a naturally occurring, thin, invisible film that builds up on tooth surfaces that are not brushed and flossed regularly. Plaque is laden with bacteria. The bacteria cause inflammation, the enemy of dentists in their battle against gum disease. Inflamed, infected gums can break down, causing progressively deepening pockets between the teeth and gums.3

The early stage of gum disease is gingivitis. More advanced gum disease is called periodontitis.3 Here are factors that lead to gum disease:

  • Poor dental hygiene, such as not brushing or flossing4

  • Poor diet5

  • Genetics5

  • Smoking. The chemicals in tobacco damage gum tissue and slow healing from inflammation. Chewing tobacco also harms gum tissue.6

  • Chronic systemic diseases, such as diabetes5

  • Stress5

A dentist uses a "periodontal probe" to measure the pockets between your teeth and gums. If they're more than 3 millimeters, there's a chance you'll need scaling and root planing. The deeper the pockets, the more bacteria and the worse the problem.2

The dentist or hygienist uses an instrument called a scaler, and sometimes an ultrasonic scaler, to remove tartar and plaque. A handheld instrument is also used for root planing. An anesthetic gel may be applied to the gums. The dentist or hygienist will teach you the proper method of brushing and flossing so that you can take better care of your teeth and gums.2

Many cases can be treated in one office visit, but some cases might require more.1 After treatment, it's important to have regular dental checkups and professional cleanings to keep gum disease at bay.4


1 "Periodontal Prodedures." American Academy of Periodontology. Accessed 2009.

2 "Treating Periodontal Disease: Scaling and Root Planing." American Dental Association. Accessed 2009.

3 "Types of Gum Disease." American Academy of Peridontology. Accessed 2009.

4 "Periodontal (Gum) Disease." American Dental Association. Accessed 2009.

5 "Causes of Gum Disease." American Academy of Periodontology. Accessed 2009.

6 "Tobacco Use and Periodontal Disease." American Academy of Periodontology. Accessed 2009.


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