Perio, do you know what this word really means for you?

Do you ever wonder why we take gum measurements, or x-rays, or models of your teeth?  This is the first in a series information blasts to let you know why we do the things we do when you go to the dentist.  

Have you ever wondered why we spend time measuring your gum tissue when you come in for a cleaning?  We perform this “periodontal charting” to assess the health of your gums.  This part of the exam involves using a little ruler to see how deep it goes below your gum line.  When the gums are healthy, the ruler only goes down about 3 millimeters (mm).  When the gums are unhealthy, the ruler goes down deeper under the gum line, anywhere from 5mm to more than 10mm.  We measure 6 spots on every tooth, and we record these measurements at your first visit and then annually.  We make every effort to ensure your comfort as we take these measurements, and it is painless for the most part; however, if the gums are very irritated sensitivity can occur during this probing.  

It is important to know the status of your gum health so we can best help your teeth and gums stay healthy long term.  Bacteria live in plaque and tartar, which is a calcified form of plaque that develops when plaque sits on the teeth for too long.  When plaque and tartar build up below the gum line, the bacteria destroy the gum tissue and eventually the bone that holds the teeth in place.  That destruction results in deeper “pockets,” which are virtually impossible to clean at home, and usually lead to more buildup and more bone loss around the teeth.  This process is called periodontal disease, and if left untreated can lead to pain, tooth mobility, infection, and even tooth loss.  This is what we hope to prevent by keeping close tabs on your gum health.  

These measurements also help us know what type of cleaning you need and how often your teeth should be professionally cleaned.  There are different types of cleanings depending on how healthy your gums are, and how much buildup there is on your teeth.  The frequency that you should have your teeth cleaned is also determined by your gum health and those pocket measurements.  There is significant variability in the rate at which everyone builds up plaque and tartar.  Some people who build up plaque and tartar quickly, or have deep pockets, should have their teeth cleaned every 3 months; whereas, others who do not tend to build up much need only have a professional cleaning every 6 months, or even every year.  


Dr. Sarah Bouchard is an Associate at MidCoast Family Dentistry. To find out more about her or our office, please look around our website or on our Facebook page at

As always, we welcome new patients, please call 236-3100 for an appointment. 

Randy Thivierge