Most patients have a ‘cleaning’ during their 6-month dental check-ups, which are known as ‘prophys’ in the dental profession. Prophy is an abbreviated term for prophylaxis, which is the cleaning needed to remove plaque.
During the appointment, we begin by measuring the ‘pockets’ in gum tissues using a probe. This is gently inserted at the base of each tooth (at three spots on both the front and back sides) to gauge the depth it can move easily into gum tissues. This is when you’ll hear Karen, our hygienist, calling out numbers. Hopefully, you’re hearing mostly ones and twos.
The reason a probe is used for these measurements is its ability to reveal markers of gum disease. The higher the number, the greater your potential for gum disease. With high numbers (often 5 through 10), the severity of existing gum disease can be determined.
The pockets in gum tissues occur when plaque and tartar (also known as ‘calculus’) migrate down from the tooth to its gum base. When it reaches the area between the gum line and the tooth’s enamel, the gum tissue can become inflamed. This inflammation causes the seal of the gum tissues around the base of the tooth to loosen.
When gum tissues are inflamed, it can cause tenderness, redness, and swollen areas. Gums that do not have a tight grip around the base of each tooth also provide easy access for bacteria that can reach tissue fibers that surround tooth roots. The result can be damage to the structures that support teeth, which can lead to eventual tooth loss.
A dental probe has markings on its side that measure in millimeters. The numbers you hear are the millimeter depths of your pocket. During probing, the lower the number, the healthier your gums. For example, a one or two is ideal. Three indicates some inflammation, however, three without bleeding is generally accepted as healthy.
As the numbers get higher, the more inflammation is present. If the number is above a five, a process referred to as ‘scaling & root planing’ may be recommended. This is a non-surgical procedure designed to remove dental plaque and tartar followed by smoothing (or ‘planing’) the surfaces of the roots harboring toxins, micro-organisms and other agents that cause inflammation.
How do you achieve 3-or-under pocket depth — the ‘gold star’ of dental cleanings?
First, be committed to twice-daily brushing and daily flossing. This helps to remove plaque that forms tartar, which is the reason for higher pocket depths. Brush a minimum of two minutes each time. Follow this by using your toothbrush to brush your tongue. This can dislodge millions of bacteria embedded there.
Keeping oral bacteria to minimal levels can help you avoid cavities, gum disease and enjoy fresher breath. In addition to your at-home care, it is important to be committed to your 6-month check-ups and cleanings. Even diligent brushing and flossing can leave you with tartar buildup in hard to reach areas. Removing these hardened masses of bacteria from tooth surfaces can help you prevent cavities and gum disease.
As research continues to reveal, your oral health is intricately connected to your overall health. We want to support you in having a healthy mouth that supports a healthy body. If you’re behind on your dental check-ups and cleanings, call 910-254-4555 to schedule. Ask about our New Patient Offer – just $145 for an exam, digital imaging (x-rays) and cleaning.