What do the numbers mean when my hygienist measures my gums?

Syd 4“What do the numbers mean when my hygienist measures my gums?” Have you ever sat in your dental hygienist’s chair and wanted to ask this question?  We love to answer questions and help our patients grow to be experts in their own personal dental conditions and care.  This process seems to be measurement of your gums but it is actually more than that.  One of the most common reasons for tooth loss is the loss of supporting bone around a tooth due to periodontal  or gum disease.  Actually, periodontal means “around the tooth” so disease activity around a tooth, periodontal disease, is important to evaluate and assess so the tooth can be maintained in a state of health.   The special millimeter ‘ruler’, called a periodontal probe, is a tool to measure the vertical tissue attachment levels around each tooth.  From these measurements, which are taken at six points spaced around the tooth, the level of supporting bone can be calculated.

Periodontal measurement 3.jpgYou might then wonder why it would be important to know where the bone levels are around each tooth.  As the surrounding bone supports  a tooth, more bone generally means the tooth will be more stable with better long term functionality.  Numbers from 1-3 millimeters are considered a “normal’ depth.  Measurements greater than 3mm (4 and larger) are considered a pocket and the deeper the pocket the more problematic it is to maintain the area in a state of health. Along with the probing number another factor is also recorded at the same time, called “bleeding on probing” or BOP for short.  This represents the current disease activity in that particular area and is mostly a sign of inflammation from bacterial infection.  Once the combination of pocket depth and BOP is charted, a specific treatment plan can be prescribed to control the problem so further bone and tissue loss can be minimized.

It is important to have your bone levels checked at your annual dental exam and hygiene appointments in between.  If you are unsure whether your dentist or hygienist performs this check, don’t hesitate to ask them. At our office, this is one of many areas our hygiene team and Dr Mastrovich check at least annually, so that we can find any problem areas as soon as possible. If you are wondering about your periodontal dental health, give us a call to schedule an initial exam.

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4 Comments
  1. I had always wondered what all those numbers meant when the dentist calls them out to the hygienist to write in my chart. Not all dentists explain what they are doing for you, so, this is really helpful.

    • Thanks, Joann! We love to help our patients take charge of their health through learning. Please call us if you have any other questions we can answer (or submit here to Ask the Dentist).

  2. Hello. I had a dental visit yesterday. My first time going to the dentist in about 12 years. I was supposed to go for a cleaning and x rays. Before even looking at my teeth, the nurse said she was going to check me for periodontal disease. And she poked each tooth in the front and back and it hurt and I had blood in my mouth. I don’t have bleeding gums, but when someone goes poking them with a sharp pointy object, they are going to bleed. Then she told me come back Wednesday for the head xray so we can better see your teeth. Even though they did the basic xrays where you have to bite down. Then she sent me home. No teeth cleaning and I didn’t even see the actual dentist. She told me before I left that she didn’t like the way my wisdom tooth looked on the xray (but said she couldn’t see it well enough so we needed the head xray) and that there was no way it was coming in by itself that it would have to be helped. That’s funny, because my wisdom tooth is already poking out. I feel the tender/sore gums commonly associated with a tooth coming in. She said that it looked like I had a cyst behind it (even though she can’t see it that well) and she said I had gum disease that needs to be treated (even though my gums are nice and pink, do not bleed, I have no loose teeth, and none of the symptoms that are portrayed on their dental charts hanging on the walls). I asked her if that would hurt and she said they would numb my gums for that. I am not quite sure if I should go somewhere else for a second opinion or continue with tyem? My insurance only pays so much before I have to pay out of pocket. But I have seen bad teeth before and my teeth are far from that. I have always had good teeth. Never had braces, always very straight, no cavities until the age of 16 and I didn’t get my first wisdom tooth until the age of 26. It was on the bottom left. When the top left started coming in about 6 months after that, there was just no room, so I had it pulled. The top left is still there and big and healthy, never had any problems with it. And now, at the age of 38, my wisdom tooth on the top right is coming in. I still have not had any sign of the bottom right one yet. Also, I have always been told that if your gums have any bleeding it is a sign of healthy gums. Has this been proven differently in the past years? I guess I am just very disappointed in the results of my teeth. I know it is my fault for not having been to the dentist in so long. But, all of what I was told, was said from the nurse/hygienist, not the dentist himself. I have a fear of the dentist to begin with and now after leaving there yesterday much worse and more scared. Any advice would be much appreciated. Thank you so much, LeAnn

    • LeAnn, You have several areas of valid concerns that a second opinion by a reputable dental practice could help you resolve. In order to find a quality dental practice in your area for your second opinion, you might want to read our earlier blog about choosing a dentist.
      If you would like to talk to us, please feel free to call us and ask for Debra at 760-741-6650.

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