Charting the Pockets

Charting pockets is the dental term for the procedure used to measure the depth of the gingival sulcus, or gum pocket. It’s a standard procedure that is accepted and used by all dentists and hyginenists. Although additional methods are also used to evaluate the condition of your gums, charting the pockets is a great way for you to get a clear picture of the extent of your periodotal disease.

To measure the pocket depth, your hygienist uses a special probe that is nothing more than a round, thin, tapered ruler with a handle. Insead of inches, it is marked in millimeters (mm). She inserts the probe into the pocket between the gum and the tooth ( the instrument is smooth and the probing is painless) until the tip of the probe reaches the place where the ligament attaches to the tooth or, if the ligament has detached, until it contacts the bone. Otherwise known as the bottom of the pocket. She reads the millimeter mark at the gum line. This tells her how deep the pocket is. She continues in this way, probing measurements on the periodontal chart.

Have your hygienist show you the chart she uses ( there are many variations on teh same theme), and ask her to explain it to you.

What the measurements mean:  If your gums are healthy, a reading of 0 to 3 mm can be considered a healthy pocket depth. But you can have the beginnings of gingititis ( inflammation and infection of the gums) without it affecting the pockets. If the pocket depth is over 3 mm, however, you probably have not only gingivitis but also the beginnings of ligament damage and bone loss, i.e., periodontitis. Once you hit the 4 mm mark, the chances are you have full blown periodontitis with bone loss.  These readings are like a golf score: a 2 or a 3 is a lot better than a 5 or a 6. And, as the readings go higher, your hygiene program becomes more and more critical and will take more effort.

When the hygienist finishes her exam,she’ll know everything she needs to know to design your oral hygiene program and direct your energy to the right areas. And if you have periodontitis, by having your pockets charted, you will have an objective method of evaluating the progress of your program.