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Deep Teeth Cleaning: What to Expect When You Go to the Dentist

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If you're reading this article, it may be because your dentist has recommended that you get a deep cleaning. This might be an alarming thing to hear.

deep cleaning dentist
The discomfort of a deep cleaning is well worth it

But don't panic!

It's not as bad as it sounds, and it can greatly improve your oral health. In this article, we'll talk all about deep teeth cleanings, including various aspects of deep dental cleanings such as:

  • Cost
  • Side effects
  • Healing process
  • Alternatives

Knowing all of this, you can head into your deep dental cleaning appointment with confidence. 

What is it?

So, what is a deep teeth cleaning anyway? A deep teeth cleaning generally involves two activities:

  • Scaling
  • Root planing

We cover scaling in another article, as it relates to routine dental cleanings, so we won't go over it much here. But essentially it involves using a special tool called a curette to scrape tartar from below the gumline. 

Scaling is a pretty standard oral hygiene practice in the US. It's the second act of this two-act performance, root-planing, which makes it a deep cleaning (and generally causes the most apprehension).

When your dentist performs a root planing procedure as part of a deep teeth cleaning, they may use the same tool, the curette, as they did for the scaling. But instead of scraping plaque and tartar from below the gumline, root planing actually smoothes down the tooth root to help the gums reattach to the tooth. 

Difference between normal cleaning and deep teeth cleaning

In the US, you may find that during your normal cleanings your dentist performs a simple brushing and flossing, or they may scale and polish your teeth. Root planing is not performed during a routine dental cleaning, but rather only during this procedure. Have a look at the following table for a summary of the differences between normal cleaning and deep cleaning: 

Routine cleaning Deep cleaning
What is involved? A routine cleaning can just be a simple brushing and flossing, but your dentist may also scale and polish your teeth as well. A deep cleaning involves root planing. This is done after extensive scaling, so that your gums can adhere to the roots again.
Who is it for? For everyone! Meant to prevent periodontal disease. For those who already have periodontal disease.
How long does it take? Less than an hour. Can take muiltiple hours, depending on the severity of tartar buildup.
Does it hurt? Not too much, teeth and gums may be a bit sore afterwards. You may experience quiete a bit of soreness for a few days after the procedure.

Who needs a dental deep cleaning?

As you may have seen in the table above, deep teeth cleaning is used to treat gum disease. When plaque builds up on your teeth due to insufficient brushing and flossing, the bacteria in plaque can cause inflamed gums. Inflamed gums pull away from teeth and create pockets. These pockets are plaque-trappers and can't be cleaned with regular brushing. You can read more about gum disease in our article here

So, if you have gum disease, your dentist may prescribe you this type of procedure as treatment. It can be scary to be diagnosed with a disease, but don't worry, it's treatable and you're certainly not alone. In fact, according to the American Dental Association, 47.2% of adults over 30 in the United States have chronic periodontitis—gum disease that is more severe than just gingivitis. 

Check out the following video for more information on who needs a deep cleaning. This dental hygienist explains that not everyone needs this procedure, but your dentist will be able to tell if you do.

Deep teeth cleaning procedure

As mentioned above, this procedure normally consists of dental scaling around and below the gumline to remove tartar and plaque. The scaling may either be done with a hydraulic scaler or a metal hook-like tool called a curette. After a dental scaling, your dentist will use the curette to smooth down the roots of your teeth so your gums can reattach to the tooth roots. Now let's look at some other information relevant to the deep teeth cleaning procedure.

How long does a deep cleaning take?

When more extensive tartar removal is required, involving extensive scaling and root planing, it can take a lot longer than a standard cleaning—even hours—and may be spread over more than one appointment.

Patients who are nervous about this procedure can request for it to be done under IV sedation. With this, the patient is awake throughout but very relaxed, and won't remember much of the deep teeth cleaning experience. However, IV sedation usually has to be paid for privately.

Dental deep cleaning cost

The cost of dental cleaning will most likely be more if it is a deep cleaning at the dentist. Dental deep cleaning costs on average between $150 and $350 without insurance. However, this doesn't take into account the cost of anesthetics you may need, or the higher costs charged by some dentists.

Check deep cleaning costs with a dentist near you

Click here to get connected or call 844-207-7106 (toll-free, 24/7)

Call A Dentist

If you do have dental insurance, the amount you will have to pay can vary greatly depending on your plan. Make sure to discuss all of the fees with your dentist beforehand, so you know how much you'll really have to pay. Medicaid may help cover costs, depending on the state you live in. You can read our article about Medicare and Medicaid for more information.

Side effects of deep teeth cleaning

After this type of dental work, you're more than likely to experience some side effects in the first few days after your appointment, and maybe even a week or more after. These side effects may include:

deep cleaning side effects
Your gums may hurt after this procedure
  • Teeth sensitivity
  • Sore gums
  • Swollen gums

Your dentist may give you an injection or prescribe you medication for the pain. 

Dental deep cleaning alternatives

If you are looking for dental deep cleaning alternatives, you're sort of out of luck. That's because, if your dentist recommends that you get one, it's because you need one. In that sense, as professionals in the dental industry will vehemently insist, the only real alternative to deep dental cleaning is a good oral hygiene routine that will prevent the buildup of tartar in the first place. 


It may not make you jump for joy to learn that you need a dental deep cleaning, but with around half of Americans in the same position, you're certainly in good company.

You may be a bit nervous about your deep cleaning dentist visit,  but don't worry, you're dentist will most likely give you a local anesthetic to help with any pain. And after you're done, you'll be on the road to much better oral health!

Just make sure to keep up the good work with regular brushing and flossing until your next yearly dental visit. One way to help with this is by using an electric toothbrush like this one from Burst. It keeps your teeth super clean with charcoal-infused brushes and sonic vibrations. You can give Burst a try by clicking the link below.


How much does deep cleaning teeth cost?

A deep cleaning costs between $150 to $350 on average without insurance. If you need this treatment but it isn't something you can afford, make sure to ask your dentist about charities that may offer to cover costs. You can also contact local dental schools that may offer free or reduced-cost services.

How do I find a dentist or hygienist for deep cleaning near me?

The majority of dental clinics will be able to provide a deep cleaning. You can call around a few in your area to check prices, or call 844-207-7106 to be connected to a nearby clinic with availability right now.

Does deep cleaning hurt?

Unfortunately, this type of cleaning does often hurt or is at least irritating. That's because your gums are inflamed and are more sensitive. If your dentist thinks that you will experience pain, they will most likely give you a local anesthetic. 

deep teeth cleaning
Take care of your teeth after a dental deep cleaning

How long does it take for gums to heal after a deep cleaning?

Any gum pain should disappear after a week, but your gums may appear swollen for a bit longer.

What are the side effects of dental deep cleaning?

Dental deep cleaning side effects include swollen and sore gums and sensitive teeth. These side effects should subside after a week.

Deep Teeth Cleaning: What to Expect When You Go to the Dentist
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Natalie Asmussen
Natalie Asmussen
Natalie Asmussen on LinkedinNatalie Asmussen on Website
Natalie used to work as a Community Health Worker and Health Insurance Navigator. She continues to follow her passion for connecting people with the healthcare they need by writing informative content about dentistry and medicine.
Dr. Gina Liggio Maestri
Natalie Asmussen on Website
Dr. Gina Liggio Maestri is an award-winning dentist with her own clinic, Maestri Dental, specializing in both general and cosmetic dentistry. Since receiving her Doctor of Dental Surgery from LSU School of Dentistry in 2002, she has continued her education, sub-specializing in cosmetic and implant dentistry. She completed a mini-residency in Restorative Implant Dentistry, and is certified for the safe administration of botox through the American Academy of Facial Esthetics. She is also a lisensed Invisalign provider. Dr. Maestri believes in building trust with her clients, so they actually enjoy visiting the dentist and taking care of their oral health. She is empathetic with her clients and passionate about about helping others.
NCBI: Gingivitis and periodontitis: Treatment of periodontitis: Cleaning, scaling, care. Consulted 9th October 2019. Mouthhealthy.org: Scaling and Root Planing. Consulted 9th October 2019.