Gum Disease Assessment and Diagnosis
One of the chief duties that define a periodontist's career is to determine the presence and degree of periodontal disease in a patient.
Periodontists (and general dentists) gauge the degree of periodontal disease with the aid of a periodontal probe--a thin measuring device that is inserted between the gums and teeth below the gum line. If the probe can slip more than 3mm below the gum line, the patient is said to have a "gingival pocket" surrounding the tooth. These pockets are considered self-cleansable (through at-home brushing by the patient) if less than 3mm in length.
If the pocket is determined by the periodontist to run deeper than 3mm, at-home dental hygiene is considered insufficient for cleaning the pocket; professional periodontal treatment is required.
If the pocket runs as deep as 5 or 7 mm, even dental hand instruments cannot be used to clean out the bacterial plaque that causes gums to become infected, swollen, tender and red (gingivitis periodontitis). If pocket inflammation is left untreated by a periodontist, the gingivitis will likely advance to chronic periodontitis and bone loss around the tooth. Future inflammation and bone loss can be prevented with gum disease surgery procedures such as pocket reduction, bone regeneration or soft tissue grafting.