A periodontal examination and probing are used to assess the health of your gums and teeth. They can help your dentist diagnose the gum diseases gingivitis and periodontitis. They also can reveal receding gums, exposed roots, tooth grinding and other problems. The exam and probing include taking measurements of the spaces between your teeth and gums. Any dentist or dental hygienist can measure these gaps. If your dentist has concerns about your gum health, you may be referred to a periodontist. This is a gum-disease specialist. This specialist will take measurements during your first visit.
Here is what your dentist will evaluate during a periodontal examination:
Any lumps or other abnormal areas in the mouth — these may include changes in the color of the gums, inner cheeks or tongue.
Whether any of your teeth are missing or loose, and how loose they are — loose teeth can be a sign of periodontal disease.
The color, texture, size and shape of your gums — healthy gums are firm and pink. Diseased gums may be: reddish or bluish-red, puffy or spongy, enlarged or swollen, shaped differently than normal.
Whether you have any fillings, crowns, bridges, dentures or implants.
How much plaque is on your teeth — plaque is a coating on the teeth that contains large numbers of bacteria. These bacteria can cause decay and/or periodontal disease. The amount of plaque gives your dentist an idea of how well you brush and floss your teeth.
The depth of the space between your tooth and gum — to measure these spaces, the dentist uses a periodontal probe. This is a tiny millimeter ruler with a blunt tip. Your dentist slides the probe between the tooth and gums at various places around each tooth. Healthy gums cling tightly to the tooth. Diseased gums tend to swell and detach from the tooth. Pockets become deeper. In advanced forms of periodontitis, the pocket can be more than 10 millimeters deep. The probe measuring the pocket may reach all the way to the tip of the tooth’s root. If a pocket is this deep, it means that much of the soft tissue and bone that anchor the tooth in place have been lost.
Whether your gums bleed during probing, receding gum and how your teeth come together when you bite.
Besides the examination, you also may need X-rays of your teeth.
Many dentists check all of these factors at every dental visit. Repeating these measurements helps your dentist track the progress of treatment.