If you practice good oral hygiene and receive professional cleanings twice a year, most of the time you visit the dentist you get a feel-good cleaning that leaves your teeth squeaky clean and your mouth refreshed. If, however, you have signs of periodontal disease, you may be in for a different type of cleaning in the form of a full mouth debridement.

What is a full mouth debridement?

A full mouth debridement is the deepest clean you can get from your dentist. The American Dental Association defines a full mouth debridement as the:

“[G]ross removal of plaque and calculus that interfere with the ability of the dentist to perform a comprehensive oral evaluation.”

In layman’s terms, this means that the buildup of plaque and tartar does not allow the dentist to get a good look at the patient’s teeth. Hardened plaque is getting in the way of your dentist performing an oral exam. When oral hygiene is neglected to the point where debris is obstructing your dentist’s ability to evaluate oral health, cleaning with an ultrasonic device and scaling tools can help. The ultrasonic vibrations remove years of buildup so that a full picture is available.

The dental debridement procedure is a separate appointment that is scheduled before your regular appointment.

What’s the difference between full mouth debridement vs. deep cleaning?

In addition to a full mouth debridement, there are two other types of dental cleanings that you might encounter.


Prophylaxis is what you would call your regular dental cleaning. This occurs every six month and includes:

  • An exam
  • Brushing
  • Flossing
  • Plaque scraping, if needed

This is performed on a healthy mouth that does not have gum disease. Prophylaxis cleaning is designed to remove what your regular brushing and flossing misses. It’s usually followed by a clean dental bill of health with an appointment for six months scheduled on the way out the door.

Scaling and root planing

Scaling and root planing is the next level of cleaning up from prophylaxis.

This type of cleaning is necessary when the early signs of periodontal disease are causing swelling or bleeding of your gums. When tartar buildup creates pockets between the tooth and gum, bacteria can enter and cause infection. Using a dental scaler, the dentist will first scrape away the tartar. Once the tartar is removed, the dentist will then smooth the tooth’s roots. This allows the gum to seal to the tooth.

Scaling and root planing is wake-up call for dental hygiene. If you find yourself in the dentist’s chair getting a scaling and root planing, you may need to make some changes in how you care for your teeth.

Which type of cleaning is right for you depends on your oral health. Everyone will get a regular cleaning at the dentist every six months. Some will come back for scaling and root planing. Just a few will have to get a full mouth debridement.

How is a debridement performed?

The dental debridement procedure is longer than a regular dental cleaning and does require some preparation. If you have underlying medical conditions that make you prone to infection, your dentist may suggest a pre-appointment antibiotic.

Due to the nature of the procedure, some dentists use anesthetic to ensure patient comfort. This could include Novocain injections or, in the case of nervousness or fear of the dentist, nitrous oxide or other relaxants.

Next, your dentist or dental hygienist will use an ultrasonic device that combines streams of water and ultrasonic vibrations to loosen tartar deposits. Once the deposits are loosened, the dentist uses a handheld scaler to remove debris and clean below the gumline.

The whole dental debridement procedure takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour and does not replace a regular dental cleaning.

After your full mouth debridement, you may find that your teeth are more sensitive to hot and cold