What is a Tooth Pocket?

As we continue in the theme of National Dental Hygiene Month, this week we are covering an important term you may hear your dentist or dental hygienist say when discussing your oral health.

The measurement of any pockets around your teeth provide important information about the health of the supporting structures of the teeth.  This article will help you understand the details of what it means to have “pockets” around your teeth.

What is a Tooth Pocket?

Officially, the term “tooth pocket” is not a great name for what it actually describes.  It is not a pocket inside a tooth.  It is a pocket between the gums and the tooth.  In a healthy mouth, every tooth has a root completely surrounded by and connected to the jawbone through a tiny periodontal ligament.  The gum tissues cover the jawbone.

A tooth pocket exists where there is a break or a loss of that connection, leaving a small gap or “pocket” between the tooth’s root and its supporting structures.  A loss of attachment leads to a loss of stability, and over time, increasing pockets can cause you to lose your teeth.

Pockets are also a great hiding spot for bacteria, so they tend to get progressively worse over time if left untreated.  These hiding spots also cause bad breath as bacteria builds up and produces smelly gases.

How Are Tooth Pockets Diagnosed?

When you see your dental hygienist for professional teeth cleanings, one of the things he or she must consistently assess is the health of your gum tissues and their attachment to your teeth.  Your hygienist will perform a periodontal evaluation using a specialized instrument with tiny measurements marked in millimeters.  By placing this tool between the tooth and gum, we can accurately measure the attachment between the root and surrounding tissues.  A measurement of 2-3 millimeters is normal and healthy.  Any area that has a pocket allowing the instrument to reach 4 millimeters or deeper is an area of gum disease.

The measurement of 4 millimeters is an important threshold because it is the depth at which your toothbrush bristles and floss can no longer reach.  Once there is a pocket at least 4mm deep, you cannot completely remove bacteria from the space.

Pockets will also show up on dental x-rays after enough bone has been lost.

What Causes Tooth Pockets?

The cause of tooth pockets is primarily gum-disease causing bacteria.  These bacteria live in dental plaque, and they produce toxins that penetrate into the surrounding gum tissues.  The human body responds to these toxins with inflammation.  Acute inflammation is a good thing because it tells you there is a problem.  Unfortunately, acute inflammation transitions into chronic inflammation when there is no treatment to remove the cause.  Chronic inflammation is bad and destructive in nature.  It is this chronic inflammation that actually breaks the attachment between a tooth’s root and the surrounding jawbone.

Dental plaque is simple to remove when it is accessible outside of the gum tissues.  It becomes difficult to remove when it accumulates underneath the gums.  Plaque also mineralized (hardens) over time into tartar or calculus, which is impossible to remove without dental treatment.

How Can I Fix Tooth Pockets?

Fixing tooth pockets will always require professional  treatment with your dental hygienist.  Using specialized instruments, the hygienist is able to remove both plaque and tartar buildup from the surface of the roots within these deep pockets.  Most commonly, we call this a “deep cleaning”.

During a deep cleaning, your hygienist removes all bacterial accumulation on the teeth, both above and below the gums.  With early intervention (when the pockets are relatively shallow), the jawbone and gum tissues will successfully re-attach to the tooth roots.  The deeper the pockets are, the more treatment you need to overcome the disease.

More Questions about Gum Disease and Tooth Pockets?

Call Timberlake Dental at 940-382-1750 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning or one of our awesome dental hygienists.  We can assess the current health of your gums and recommend treatment needed to treat any pockets.

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