A dentist showing a patient her teeth x-ray

What Is Surgical Cleaning?

If your teeth and gums are healthy, your dentist will likely suggest that you have a professional dental cleaning at least once every six months. However, periodontal tissues that display signs of gum disease may require additional measures to restore their health. One of these restorative services is a surgical cleaning.

What is a surgical cleaning?

A surgical cleaning involves deep scaling and root planing. These procedures help clear plaque and tartar from the areas of the tooth below the gum line.

Gum Disease

When plaque and tartar accumulations are left in place, they encourage an increase in the bacterial population within your mouth. As oral microbes consume carbohydrates, they release acid as a by-product of their digestion. This acid causes gum inflammation that results in red, swollen gingival tissues that bleed easily.


If you have started to develop gum disease, you may notice a bit of blood on the bristles of your toothbrush or in the sink after you brush your teeth. The onset of this bleeding is an indication of gingivitis, which is the earliest stage of gum disease. To treat gingivitis, your dentist will likely recommend meticulous oral hygiene and a routine dental cleaning in which the teeth are scaled and polished. Antibacterial mouth rinse may also be suggested to help kill the bacteria within your mouth.


Chlorhexidine-based rinses are often preferred over those that contain alcohol because of the tendency of alcohol to dry out the soft tissues of the mouth.


If gingivitis is not treated properly and timely, it can progress. The gums, in addition to being inflamed, may develop pockets. These pockets or spaces between the gums and your teeth offer additional areas for bacterial growth and tartar development. Over time, gum disease can become so severe that it starts to disintegrate the bones of the jaw and causes the teeth to loosen within their sockets.

How does a typical routine cleaning differ from a surgical cleaning?

A routine cleaning only includes the basic scaling of the portions of a tooth that are exposed—the crowns. During the scaling, tartar is removed from the exposed tooth enamel.

With a surgical cleaning, a deep scaling and root planing are performed. The deep scaling removes plaque and tartar from the portions of your tooth that lie beneath your gums. Root planing smoothes the surface of your dental roots and removes infected tooth material.

The deep scaling and root planing are performed during the same surgical cleaning sessions. Once a surgical cleaning is complete, the roots of your teeth are smooth, and tartar accumulations are eliminated. The procedure encourages the healing of the gum tissue and a reduction in periodontal inflammation.

Is a surgical cleaning painful?

A surgical cleaning is not generally painful because your dentist will likely numb the area that will be surgically cleaned. Pockets within the gums can be quite deep, and root surfaces may be significantly irregular. Local anesthesia is used to help ensure that a deep cleaning is not unduly uncomfortable.

Your dentist may present multiple options to minimize pain. Injectable anesthesia may be used, or a topical gel may be applied to the areas within and around the gum pockets may be employed.

In some instances, if the pockets within your gums are not excessively deep, the surgical cleaning may be performed with very little discomfort, even in the absence of anesthesia.

Is a surgical cleaning session time-consuming?

The length of a surgical cleaning session depends on the severity of your gum condition. If pockets are extremely deep and tooth root services are excessively rough, the procedure may take longer. To reduce the duration of your cleaning sessions, your dentist may divide your surgical cleaning into multiple appointments, targeting one area of your mouth at a time.

How do you feel after a surgical cleaning?

After a surgical cleaning, you can expect a bit of discomfort. Your gums may be sore due to the depth of the cleaning. In addition, you may experience an increase in dental sensitivity to changes in temperature. Also, your gums may bleed more easily until they fully heal.

To lessen post-treatment discomfort, the dental office may recommend an over-the-counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. However, stronger medicine may be prescribed based on your needs. You will also likely be advised to brush and floss more gently for a period to prevent aggravating sensitive gums.