What Do Those Numbers At the Dentist Mean?

Do you ever wonder what all those numbers your dental hygienist calls out are all about? Well, take a deep breath, you’re not the only one, and to be honest, there is nothing too nefarious about them. It is a common question though and worth a quick explanation.

When most people think of the going to the dentist they think of cavities, and decay and what the dentist may find in their teeth, but truth be told, that is only half the equation, maybe not even the bigger half (if a half can be larger). The dentist and hygienist work as a team to ensure that everything that is holding your pearly whites in place is also up to par, that includes the gums and bone, and this is where those numbers come into play.

A large part of the visit to the dentist is to prevent, detect and/or treat gum disease. You can get more details about Gum Disease here. In general, most people should have their teeth professionally cleaned twice a year, and at one of those cleanings the hygienist should take those numbers. So, what are they actually doing? To understand we need to take a step back and look at how the tooth is attached to the mouth. Obviously, a large section of the tooth is anchored to bone, and this is done by many small ligaments that attach the tooth and bone together. On top of that are the gums. There is a natural space between the gums and the tooth before these ligaments begin, sort of like a turtle neck around the tooth. Everyone has them, and they should be between 1-3 millimeters depending on where they are located in the mouth. So now to those numbers, the hygienist will use an instrument called a periodontal probe to literally measure those little spaces, or pockets in the gums. This probe is nothing more than a very small ruler, that measures in millimeters. If the numbers come back in the good range then we’re all happy, but a 4mm pocket is a sign that Gum Disease is beginning in that area, and larger numbers indicate active Gum Disease. With these numbers appropriate treatment planning can be made, and patients can be educated to help steer the gums back to health.

Often times obtaining these numbers are a patients least favorite part of the visit, but truth be told they provide a wealth of information about the health of the patient's gums and can be the keystone to keeping a beautiful healthy smile for years to come.

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