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Periodontal Charting: What It Is & Why It's Important

Have you ever gone to the dentist's office for a cleaning appointment and noticed that the dental hygienist or dentist was taking measurements of your gums? Are you curious what all the poking and prodding was all about? Read on for an explanation of why it is important to check your gums as a part of regular preventative care.

What Is Periodontal Charting?

Periodontal charting is a way of measuring the space between a tooth and the gum tissue next to it. A dentist or dental hygienist uses an instrument called a probe and gently inserts it into this space. This probe has markings like a tape measure that show them how deep it can reach into the space to check the health of your gums.

Your dental professional takes six measurements per tooth to ensure that all areas are accounted for. Along with the measurements, they also check for bleeding of the gum tissue and areas of gum recession. Healthy tissue measures 1 to 3 millimetres and fits snugly around the tooth. Areas of concern measure 4 millimetres and deeper, due to plaque and germs causing the tissue to be inflammed and pull away from the tooth. Areas with higher readings tend to be more sensitive to probing. In severely problematic areas, probing depths can reach up to 12 millimetres. These problem areas are often referred to as periodontal pockets; they are often challenging to keep clean at home.

Why Are Gum Tissue Charts Important?

Periodontal charting is an important step in the detection of gum problems . According to the Oral Hygienists Association of South Africa (OHASA), 3 out of 4 adults over the age of 35 years suffer from this condition. It causes inflammation of the gumline, and can lead to loss of the bone that surrounds the teeth. Gum problems can be painless, so it may go undetected without preventative dental care, but symptoms commonly include sensitive gums that bleed easily, especially when brushing or flossing. Gum recession is another classic sign of gum problems.

The gum tissue measurements should be recorded at least once per year, and more often if problem areas are found, in an effort to identify periodontal disease early on. Many dental offices start periodontal charting once a patient has reached full dentition, or a complete set of adult teeth, according to Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. It can be done at a younger age if gum tissue is swollen or bleeding.

Your dental hygienist or dentist may record the gum depth numbers in several ways. Sometimes they are typed directly into a computer program. Other times, an assistant may type the numbers in for whoever is taking measurements. Voice recognition technology can also be used, during which you will hear your dental professional calling the numbers out loud. If any areas of concern are discovered, your dental professional will notify you where they are as part of the evaluation process. You may even receive a copy of your periodontal chart to take home.

What Can You Do to Keep Gum Tissue Measurements in a Healthy Range?

Oral care at home plays an important role in making sure that your periodontal charting looks positive. Brushing and flossing properly at home is an essential first step, and starts with brushing twice a day for two minutes and flossing daily. Keep in mind that cleaning above the gumline is just as important as cleaning below the gumline. Gently brush your gums while you brush your teeth, and swish with a mouthwash for healthier gums.

Scheduling dental cleanings on a regular basis is another essential part of keeping your teeth and gums healthy for life. Your dental professional may recommend advanced treatment, such as scaling and root planing, or suggest a more frequent exam schedule if they notice pocketing and inflamed gums in your mouth. Otherwise, keep on a six-month cleaning schedule for the healthiest smile and the best results.