The first stage of gum disease, gingivitis, begins with bacteria in plaque accumulations on tooth surfaces (above and below the gum line) releasing toxins that inflame the gums. As the inflamation continues and bacteria grow below the gum line, connective tissue surrounding the teeth is destroyed and the gums begin to retract. Pockets then form between teeth and gums, allowing bacteria further access to ligaments that anchor teeth and underlying bone. To stop the progression of gingivitis, the dentist will remove plaque and tartar from teeth with a scaler. When this is not sufficient, the dentist will plane the surfaces of tooth roots with elongated instruments (curettes) until they are smooth enough to encourage gum reattachment and pocket shrinkage.
This informative column about gingivitis has been brought to you in the interest of better dental health. Teeth are meant to last for a lifetime.
P.S. While scaling basically involves the removal of dental tartar from tooth surfaces, root planing is the process of smoothing the root surfaces and removing any infected tooth structure.