Dental offices sometimes use big and fancy words when recommending treatment or when describing findings in the oral cavity. So… when your dental provider tells you they are “going to check the health of your gums” and starts rambling off a whole bunch of numbers, what are they actually doing? What do all those numbers really mean?
Between each tooth and the surrounding gum tissues is an area of potential space. Your dental professional uses a small instrument, better known as the periodontal probe, to measure the depth of that space, or pocket. The periodontal probe is marked with small lines (measured in millimeters) that typically measure from 1 to 12. Measurements are taken by “walking” the instrument in that small space, between the tooth and gum tissue, down to the base of the pocket to establish the health of the periodontium, or the structures that keep the tooth in place.
Those numbers being thrown out left and right are very useful for your dental professional to maintain the health of your mouth or recommend proper treatment. Ideal or “healthy” pocket depths measure between 1-3mm with very little to no bleeding. These numbers indicate there are no clinical signs of inflammation, infection, or disease.
Pocket depths greater than 3mm can be associated with both gingivitis and periodontal (gum) disease. Pockets measuring between 4-5mm with little bleeding can be in indication of inflammation, or gingivitis. This tells the dental professional that a patient may not be spending enough time with their brushing and flossing outside of the dental office or is irregular with dental visits. Gingivitis is easily reversible with adequate homecare and routine visits to the dental office. It is recommended a person brushes twice a day for two full minutes and flosses at least once a day. You should have your teeth professional cleaning and examined every 6 months.
Once pocket depths reach 5mm and over (remember, they can get as high as 12mm), your dental professional is now more alarmed. Typically once a pocket is over 5mm bleeding and/or pus is accompanied; which is now telling the dental professional there is clinical evidence of disease, or infection. This infection has not only affected your gum tissues, but is now beginning to attack your bone as well. Once the bone that supports your tooth and holds it in place is affected, a person has potential for the tooth to become loose, which could eventually end in tooth loss if not treated promptly and properly. What started as possible lack of adequate oral care and dental care has now become more serious and is likely to need more aggressive care to prevent the infection from spreading. Research has shown that bacteria circulate in the bloodstream, so this is not only affecting your mouth health, but your overall body health as well.
Each and every one of us is able to adequately reach 1-2mm under our gum tissue with our toothbrush and floss to remove any food debris and bacteria. So, if a person has a 4 or 5mm pocket, there is at least 2-3mm along the tooth under the gum tissue that is untouched until the next professional dental cleaning. That bacteria has now had a chance to “have a party” undisturbed for the past however long - causing inflammation and infection. In order to remove that bacteria and have the tissues reattach to the tooth (with hopes of minimal bone loss), a more aggressive cleaning may be recommended. This is where people hear the terms “scaling and root planing” or “deep cleaning” followed with maintenance cleanings every 3 or 4 months, instead of 6, when discussing treatment recommendations.
So… When your dental provider in Plymouth, MN tells you they are going to “check the health of your gums” you can kick back and relax. You wouldn’t expect anything but healthy pocket depth readings with all the brushing and flossing you have been doing.