A Few Notes on Being Checked for Gum Disease


I have been practicing dentistry for quite a while. Back when I was in school (the late 1970’s) we were taught to use the “periodontal probe” which is a thin metal measuring probe with millimeter markings. They can also be made of plastic. But the idea is to gently and quickly place the probe along the side of the tooth and take 6 readings around each tooth to measure the distance from the gum to the bottom of a where the probe stops. That is what the pocket is. In a healthy mouth this doesn’t hurt, but in an inflamed or infected mouth it can be quite uncomfortable.


Last week a new patient came to the office – a professional in her early 40s. She said that her dentist did not take measurements and was happy with finding pockets on the x-rays. This was surprising to me as it is not what is taught in the dental schools nor what is recommended at present time. One problem is that the x-rays are 2 dimensional and may miss pockets that may need to be treated. This particular patient was not happy with the entire situation and chose not to continue with our appointment. Of course, patients also need to have some x-rays taken or at least have recent x-rays sent from another office before we treat them. There are different guidelines that appear from time to time, but at least on the first appointment dentists will stay out of trouble from missing problems which need to be treated. when the necessary x-rays are consulted.


Occasionally patients miss appointments for some reason, like a health issue or some life problem. During their absence, new problems might have developed.  When they return we often measure the gums to see if special treatment needs to be performed for their gums. If patients have needed a deep cleaning procedure in their life time, they are more prone to the condition of periodontal disease and may experience a recurrence. The way to best avoid this disease is to do a thorough job on your home care and be regular with you visits to the hygienist. This week I had a patient who had a deep cleaning in my office 15 years ago and had been coming every 4-6 months. But life got in the way and it’s been almost a year since his last cleaning and now needs a deep cleaning once again. I will say that at his last several appointments he was informed that his home care was not up to snuff and he may need a deep cleaning. That extra time made the difference (he had a lot of 5 mm pockets and his gums were red, bleeding, and there was a lot of plaque).