Teeth scaling, also known as dental scaling, takes things to the next level in terms of tackling plaque buildup. It’s an in-office dental procedure that uses sharp instruments (which are best used by professionals) and careful attention to detail to remove plaque, as seen here (beware, it’s not for the faint of heart):
Videos of this procedure are going viral on TikTok, which is encouraging people to try it at home, as seen here:
But is that safe? We spoke with the experts to find out.
Why people want to try teeth scaling.
“Plaque is a sticky film that covers the teeth, and is composed of different types of bacteria and biological elements (such as calcium) found in your saliva,” said Brian Kantor, a dentist in New York. Typically found at the gumline, plaque can form for a number of reasons, either from eating starchy or sugary foods, not brushing every day or not flossing correctly. Most people can feel plaque when they run their tongue on their teeth, or if they scratch at the surface of their teeth with their nail and a yellow or white film comes off, said Rhonda Kalasho, a dentist and the CEO of TruGlo Modern Dental.
Aside from the cosmetic effects plaque buildup imposes (like dry mouth and bad breath), uncontrolled plaque buildup can lead to gum inflammation, resulting in bleeding gums and a variety of periodontal conditions (such as gum recession, bone loss and eventual tooth loss), said Marina Gonchar, a dentist and owner of Skin to Smile. Not to mention, plaque buildup can lead to cavities or tooth infections.
So what is teeth scaling?
“Teeth scaling is a cleaning procedure designed to eliminate excessive plaque buildup on the teeth,” Kantor explained. “While a standard cleaning will address the surface of the tooth, scaling goes much deeper and usually involves going below the gums.”
The process itself is done via a scaler, a handheld metal teeth cleaning tool that scrapes off the plaque and calculus, or tartar, from the teeth. The tool is double-sided, with the pointed end used for the tooth section above the gumline and the curved end used to reach below the gumline, said Kantor, who added that your dentist may use an ultrasonic tool with a vibrating metal top plus a water spray to wash tartar away.
Teeth scaling has several benefits for your oral health. For one, getting rid of plaque buildup can help remove some of that yellow discoloration on your teeth, contributing to a brighter, shinier smile. It can also reduce the risk of gum disease and tooth decay, and can even help fix unpleasant breath (or halitosis).
Why you should leave teeth scaling to a professional.
“Scaling should not be performed at home and should be left for the dental office,” Kantor clearly stated.
It’s not even something that’s recommended for everyone in the first place. “The determination if a patient requires tooth scaling is usually made as a result of a clinical exam and radiographic analysis, which confirms that the patient has plaque located significantly below the gumline and is causing gum inflammation with possible bone loss,” Gonchar said.
Also, the tools used to remove plaque are sharp and have a specific shape for each tooth that help maximize plaque removal while minimizing tooth damage, Gonchar added. “Using tools that are this sharp without any knowledge of how to properly hold them and the pressure with which to apply them to the tooth surface can lead to tooth and gum damage.”
At-home teeth scaling can also lead to infection, as scalers “must be sterilized thoroughly before every use so as to not transfer bacteria from one surface to another,” Kalasho said. It’s also possible to overly scale a tooth, which can lead to damage of your enamel as well as minor cracks that can lessen the tooth’s integrity and increase sensitivity.
The takeaway? While nixing plaque buildup is important to oral hygiene, teeth scaling should be left in the hands of a professional to reduce the risk of unwanted cuts, bleeding and damage.