Any patient that has experienced a thorough cleaning has heard their hygienist as their periodontal probe measurements are read. But what do those numbers mean? As a dental hygienist, I am often asked this question during cleaning visits. Understanding the importance of periodontal probing during a dental cleaning is an important factor that helps our patients achieve optimum oral health.
Dental hygienists use an instrument called a periodontal probe, which is a small measuring device that is gently used to evaluate the health of the bone and gingiva surrounding each tooth. The periodontal probing process is the most effective way to evaluate for areas of inflammation. The probe measures in millimeter increments, and measures the distance from the deepest extent of the pocket that surrounds your tooth to the surface of the tissue.
Healthy gingiva will have a 1 to 3 millimeter deep "pocket" around the whole tooth. It is considered healthy because when a toothbrush and floss are used correctly, they can reach 1 to 3 millimeters under the gums removing daily plaque and debris. Effectively removing daily irritants keep inflammation at bay which helps maintain healthy tissue.
Inflamed gingiva will often present with 4mm or deeper pockets surrounding a tooth. Inflamed tissue develops when plaque or food debris remain under the gums without removal. As the debris sits under the gumline, the inflammation process starts as the immune system tries to fight off the plaque. As part of the inflammation process, the gingiva may develop puffiness, be more prone to bleed, and eventually develop a deeper pocket. In some patients, when the inflammation remains, the pocket will get deeper and deeper as the inflammation spreads into the bone supporting the tooth, which can result in even deeper pockets that can extend all the way to the tip of a tooth’s root. In cases of severe inflammation, pocket depths can exceed 10 millimeters.
At North Idaho Dental Group, thorough periodontal exams are completed at all initial examinations and are regularly revisited as part of a patient’s comprehensive dental care. The initial exam will help your hygienist and dentist determine what type of dental cleaning is needed to stabilize or maintain your gingival health. If the readings are within the healthy 1-3 mm range and minimal or no bleeding, a preventative cleaning is indicated. If there are areas of gingivitis or gum disease, your dental team may recommend more involved cleanings to help get the inflammation under control and on track to a healthier mouth.
Periodontal exams are important information for you and your hygienist to treat your individual needs, so the next time a hygienist is taking your numbers during your appointment, don't forget to ask how they look!
Written by Stephanie, a registered dental hygienist at the North Idaho Dental Group Ponderay Location.