Have you ever wondered why your dentist or hygienist calls out numbers in the middle of your dental exam? It might sound something like this if your gums are pretty healthy: “Two, two, three, two, one, two, two, one, two, one, one, one.” However, it’s a problem if you start to hear higher numbers, like fives and sixes. But just what is your dentist measuring, and what do the numbers mean?

You might be able to think of a time when you bit into an apple and a tiny sliver of apple skin got wedged in the gap between your tooth and your gums, and if this has ever happened to you, you know how difficult it is to get that out. Everyone has some gap between their gums and teeth, but the smaller the gap, the healthier your gums.

In this procedure, your dentist or hygienist is filling out what is called a “periodontal chart.” Using a measurement tool marked in millimeters, your dentist will insert the tool into the space between your tooth and your gums and see how far it goes before it stops. If it goes only one or two millimeters, great! There is only a very tiny pocket between your gum and your tooth, indicating that your gums and teeth are quite healthy.

However, if the tool goes four, five, or even six millimeters down into the pocket, this is cause for concern and will reveal to your dentist the potential problem areas where your mouth’s health may be compromised. This also allows your dentist to catch problems early, before they become painful or dangerous. If your periodontal chart shows a five or a six, you may not even feel anything bothering you yet, but a pocket this deep can reflect periodontal disease, a cracked tooth, gum loss, and risk of losing that tooth.

The other thing to watch out for in this procedure is whether or not your gum bleeds. Healthy gums should not bleed in this process, but if a particular area of the gum does bleed, it can reflect inflammation and be another cause for concern that your dentist will be able to diagnose.

Next time your dentist or hygienist calls out your numbers, pay close attention and listen for how high your numbers are. If it has been a while since the last time you had your teeth cleaned, schedule an appointment now and let our Des Plaines dentist establish a baseline for how healthy your gums and teeth are.