Periodontal disease is diagnosed by your dentist or dental hygienist during a periodontal
examination. This type of exam should always be part of your regular dental check-up.
A periodontal probe (small dental instrument) is gently used to measure the sulcus (pocket or
space) between the tooth and the gums. The depth of a healthy sulcus measures three millimeters or less and
does not bleed. The periodontal probe helps indicate if pockets are deeper than three millimeters. As
periodontal disease progresses, the pockets usually get deeper.
Your dentist or hygienist will use pocket depths, amount of bleeding, inflammation, tooth
mobility, etc., to make a diagnosis that will fall into a category below:
Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease. Plaque and its toxin by-products
irritate the gums, making them tender, inflamed, and likely to bleed.
Plaque hardens into calculus (tartar). As calculus and plaque continue to build up, the
gums begin to recede from the teeth. Deeper pockets form between the gums and teeth and become filled with
bacteria and pus. The gums become very irritated, inflamed, and bleed easily. Slight to moderate bone
loss may be present.
The teeth lose more support as the gums, bone, and periodontal ligament continue to be
destroyed. Unless treated, the affected teeth will become very loose and may be lost. Generalized
moderate to severe bone loss may be present.