The term, dental cleaning, often refers to a variety of dental cleaning procedures. The two most common examples are a regular cleaning and then there is what is referred to a deep cleaning. It's important to understand there is a big difference between these procedures and implications that each of these procedures have when it comes to your oral health.
Regular cleaning or prophylaxis
A regular cleaning, is what most people see as a typical tooth cleaning and a checkup. Dental professionals refer to this type as a prophylaxis. This cleaning involves removing plaque, calculus and stains from teeth. (Plaque is a filmy, sticky substance that builds up on teeth as a byproduct of bacteria feasting on the food you eat. Calculus, is much harder and is also knowns as tartar, occurs when plaque and minerals in your mouth harden.) Your dental hygienist or dentist uses an ultrasonic scaler that utilizes water and high frequency vibration, to remove plaque and calculus. This cleaning occurs only on the visible part of the tooth above the gums, known as the crown.
Regular cleaning is only recommended for patients who have generally good oral health and do not suffer from bone loss or gum problems (recession, bleeding, infection, mobility, etc.)
Scaling and Root Planing or Deep Cleanings
Root planing is a procedure which involves removing tartar, bacteria, and tissue irritating deposits from the root of a tooth down to where gum and bone meet. while it is at times referred to as a "deep cleaning", you should know that this treatment is very different from a typical cleaning (prohpylaxis). This procedure is required as a treatment for periodontal disease or periodontitis (commonly called gum disease, which also affects the bone.)
It is possible to have periodontal disease and not even know it. Common symptoms of the disease include bad breath, bleeding gums, teeth that look longer due to recessed gums, and swollen/puffy or red gums. However, many people do not notice any symptoms at all and may be surprised when your dentist recommends scaling and root planing instead of a regular cleaning. It's important to understand that this procedure is both necessary and vital to getting periodontal disease under control and avoid future tooth loss. Other procedures including surgery may be required to treat the disease.
Once you have been diagnosed with periodontal disease and have undergone scaling and root planing, periodontal maintenance is what you can think of as taking the place of prophylaxis in your dental care routine. Rather than just addressing just the crowns of your teeth as in prophylaxis, periodontal maintenance also cares for your tooth roots, gums and bone. Think of it as cleaning and maintenance for the tissues affected by your periodontal disease. The frequency of your periodontal maintenance appointments depends on your individual oral health condition and will be determined by your dentist.