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periodontal probe to measure gum pocket depths

Periodontal disease is diagnosed by your periodontist or dental hygienist during a periodontal examination.  This type of exam should always be part of your regular dental check-up. A periodontal probe (small dental instrument) is gently used to measure the sulcus (pocket or space) between the tooth and the gums.  The periodontal probe resembles a ruler, demarcated by lines and calibrated in millimeters. The shallower the depth (smaller number), the better the indication of gum health. However, a deeper depth (higher number) indicates gum disease. The depth of a healthy pocket measures three millimeters or less and does not bleed.  The periodontal probe helps indicate if pockets are deeper than three millimeters.  As periodontal disease progresses, the pockets ultimately get deeper.


Your dentist or hygienist will use pocket depths, amount of bleeding, inflammation, tooth mobility, etc., to make a diagnosis.

stages of periodontal disease, healthy gums gingivitis, mild periodontitis, moderate periodontitis, severe periodontitis


When probing depths are between 1mm to 3mm and inflammation is present (such as bleeding), this indicates Gingivitis. Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease. It is an inflammation of the gums without bone loss. It may cause your gums to become redder, swollen, and to bleed easily. It may present with minimal to no discomfort. It is usually reversible with professional treatment and good oral home care including daily brushing and flossing.

*When gingivitis is left untreated, it can advance to periodontitis which can lead to tooth loss.


When probing depths are greater than 3mm with inflammation, PERIODONTITIS may be diagnosed. Periodontitis is an inflammation of the gum that extends into the surrounding supporting tissues of the teeth, or attachment apparatus including bone. There is loss of clinical attachment. Periodontitis is classified based on severity into 3 forms based on the amount of clinical attachment loss: Mild, Moderate, or Severe. As calculus and plaque continue to build up, the gums begin to recede from the teeth.  Deeper pockets form between the gums and teeth and become filled with bacteria and sometimes pus (infection).  The gums become very irritated, inflamed, and bleed easily. 

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