Your dentist might use a couple of different terms to describe your gum disease: gingivitis or periodontitis. Basically, gingivitis is mild gum disease where your gums become inflamed and prone to bleeding. Periodontitis is more severe, and it means that there's damage to the bones around your teeth [source: Healthwise]. If you have gingivitis, your dentist may recommend upping your brushing and flossing game at home, but if you're suffering from periodontitis, root planing and scaling can help heal your gums and teeth without resorting to surgery [source: Healthwise].
Gum disease can be painful and cause you to lose teeth. It's also linked to a higher risk for other health problems, because it causes bacteria to enter your body, leading to inflammation. This triggers production of a protein that's linked to heart disease and stroke [source: Rohm]. Your body is using its resources to fight that inflammation, and stressing out your immune system, which should be keeping you safe from disease.
If your dentist determines that you do have periodontitis, root planing and scaling are usually the first treatments that she will try to non-surgically treat you [source: American Academy of Periodontology]. Some people find it painful, while others just think it's uncomfortable. Your dentist will use a local anesthetic to numb your mouth before starting the procedure [source: Healthwise] Local anesthetic should prevent you from feeling pain during the procedures. Instead, you'll just feel the pressure of the instruments in your mouth.
Root planing and scaling fight gum disease in two ways: by removing the plaque that's on your teeth deep down in your gums and smoothing out areas of your teeth where bacteria like to live [source: NIDCR]. The earlier you start treating gum disease, the better your chances of being able to take care of the problem without surgery and the lower your risk of losing any teeth.
Once the procedure is complete, your dentist will give you some aftercare instructions. What can you expect?