Perhaps you’ve been there before: in the dentist’s chair, mouth wide open, listening to the doctor call out random numbers to the hygienist as he peers inside and prods around with his tiny instruments. You want to ask, but you can’t. What in the world do those numbers mean? And, more importantly, is a higher number a good thing or a bad thing?
Let’s demystify that esoteric little part of your routine dental visit, because it’s actually one of the most important parts of your dentist’s assessment of your oral health. Those numbers represent a measurement – in millimeters – of the depth of the pocket between each tooth and your gums. Created as a result of gum inflammation, these pockets are breeding grounds for tooth-eroding bacteria, as well as hiding places for tartar and plaque. So the smaller the number your dentist calls out, the better.
Here’s a quick breakdown:
- 1 to 3 means that your teeth and gums are relatively healthy. You have good oral hygiene habits like daily brushing and, perhaps more importantly, daily flossing of the gum line, which removes tartar and prevents gum inflammation.
- 4 indicates potential trouble, particularly if the dentist observes bleeding along the gum line. Even otherwise healthy patients will occasionally hear their dentist call out a few 4s, but they’ll be the exception rather than the rule. Multiple 4s may indicate tooth decay or the beginnings of periodontal disease.
- 5 and above will likely cause your dentist to intervene more aggressively, perhaps with a deep cleaning to remove tartar buildup, assess the progress of gum disease, and check for a cracked tooth.
The best way to keep those numbers low is to practice good oral hygiene, and to keep up with your regular appointments with your dentist. If you haven’t already scheduled your next cleaning, then give us a call today. We’ll be happy to get you set up.