What are These Gum Measurements?  What is a Pocket?

The people who come to Timberlake Dental regularly for professional teeth cleanings know that, they will periodically have gum measurements taken by the dental hygienist.  We use terms like “FMP”, “pockets”, and “probing depth”, as well as a long list of numbers.

What are Gum Measurements?

Gum measurements are a way to evaluate the state of the gums and jawbone around each tooth.  These measurements tell your dental hygienist and dentist whether your gums are healthy or unhealthy.

You cannot have a healthy mouth without healthy bone and gums!  Even people with no cavities can lose their teeth due to gum disease.

To best understand gum measurements, you must first understand gum disease.

What is Gum Disease?

The jawbone and gums form the foundation of your teeth.  They stabilize the teeth, allowing them to function properly in chewing.  The bone and gums should completely cover every tooth root to adequately hold the tooth in place.

Gum disease destroys that foundation.  The primary cause of gum disease is always buildup of plaque and tartar on the teeth.  This acts as an irritant to the bone and gums, causing them to pull away from the tooth.  This pulling away creates a “pocket”, or a gap between the gums and the tooth.  This gap is what we are measuring when we call out all of those numbers.

The irritants in gum disease also cause inflammation, which makes your gums bleed easily and look red and puffy.

Back to Those Measurements

Healthy gums attach to the bone over the tooth.  There is a slight overlap of gums on the tooth that is healthy.  This is why your hygienist may tell you that any number under 3 is okay.  A measurement of three millimeters is a normal amount of overlap.

Once the number gets higher than three, we have a problem.  You see, if the gums are not attached to the tooth once you pass three millimeters, it also means the bone is not attached to the tooth there. The higher the gum measurement number, the lower the amount of bone attached to the tooth.  As the bone level shrinks, the tooth loses support.

What is a Pocket?

Any place around a tooth where the number measures higher than 3 millimeters is a pocket.  These pockets present a two-fold challenge.  1) Your toothbrush bristles and floss cannot reach deeper than 3 millimeters under the gums to clean this area.  2) Pockets create a perfect hiding spot for plaque and bacterial buildup.  The plaque builds up more, irritating the tissue more, causing more pulling away, leading to a deeper pocket . . . it’s a vicious cycle!

Help!  I Have Pockets!  Now What?

Basically, just follow the instructions your dentist and dental hygienist give you.

Not every pocket is alike, and therefore, they are not all treated the same way.  Some patients have early pocketing and can turn things around with simple changes to their oral hygiene routine.  Other patients need gum treatments to clean long-standing bacterial buildup in those deep hiding spots.

One thing is certain: if you have gum measurements over three millimeters, it is a red flag for gum disease.  Anyone who is high risk for gum disease should take the following steps:

  • Never miss a professional teeth cleaning! Staying on schedule with teeth cleanings prevents an overgrowth of bacteria, which leads to gum disease.
  • Be a good brusher! It is not enough to simply brush once or twice a day.  You must brush with the right technique.  The soft bristles of your toothbrush must touch the gums in a gentle, rotating motion at 45 degrees.  If you need tips on brushing, ask our dental hygienists at your next cleaning.  They are the pros!
  • Floss! We know everyone hates flossing.  It is essential to keeping the bacterial buildup cleaned away from the areas between the teeth.  There is no substitute for good old flossing.
  • Use an antiseptic mouthrinse! A mouthrinse helps flush away soft buildup and food debris, as well as kill bacteria.  Regular use can help you prevent more bacterial buildup on the teeth.

More Questions about Gum Disease?

Call 940-382-1750 today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He can answer all of your questions, assess your risk for gum disease, and get you back on track to a completely healthy mouth.