Why does the dentist poke my gums during my checkup?

Young woman in dentist chair afraid of dental procedure

We know that dental visits can be stressful for a lot of patients. So when you’re leaning back and the dentist starts poking your gums with a metal instrument saying a series of numbers, it might seem a little strange or uncomfortable!

Not to worry – what we’re doing is called periodontal charting, and it can help us identify gum disease or other health concerns before you feel them.

What is periodontal charting?

Periodontal charting is the practice of using a periodontal probe to measure the distance between your gums and where they attach to your teeth. This area or space is often called a “pocket,” and the size of these pockets is an indicator of how healthy or unhealthy your gums and bone support are. These measurements are one of the many ways that we evaluate the health of your gums and screen you for gum disease.

We often check your gum health as a team, with a dentist or hygienist probing your gums and another team member recording the results in a periodontal chart like the one below:

An example of a Periodontal Chart

What do the numbers mean?

The numbers that you hear are the depths of the pockets around your teeth in millimeters. Smaller, tighter pockets usually mean healthier gums.


Measuring your pocket depths is just one of the things that we do to screen you for gum disease. In addition to the measurements, we visually look for signs and symptoms, consider your risk factors, and take digital X-rays.

Why is periodontal charting important?

As we mentioned above, the main reason we probe your gums is to check for gum disease, also known as periodontal disease.Science supports the fact that gum disease affects other parts of your health. Research has suggested that there is a link between gum disease and many other conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, respiratory issues, and many more.

Periodontal disease can have many signs and symptoms. These include:


Gum disease is often silent and progresses slowly. Measuring the pockets is a proactive approach. Most of the above symptoms will not occur until an advanced stage of gum disease which is more difficult to treat. Early intervention allows for less invasive, more predictable treatment and better results.

Why haven’t I had this done before visiting Stonehaven Dental?

At Stonehaven Dental, we follow the recommendations of the AAP American Academy of Periodontology. The AAP recommends an annual periodontal evaluation to assess your gum health and identify gum disease. Maybe you have been screened but weren’t made aware. At our practices, we want to partner with you regarding your dental health. Clearly communicating what we are measuring and what we discover is the best way to do that. We call the numbers aloud so you hear your measurements and fully understand your gum health.

Do you have additional questions and concerns?

Our primary concern is your health and comfort, and we always want to provide a stress-free environment for our patients to receive dental care. So if periodontal probing makes you feel anxious or you’re worried about associated pain, please don’t hesitate to let us know! We are always happy to discuss your concerns and work together on a unique solution for you. So if you’re still worried about periodontal charting, feel free to give us a call or open a chat with us.

Posted in: General Oral Health

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