Gum disease falls into two main categories, gingivitis and periodontitis, and is diagnosed by your dentist after completing a periodontal examination. This type of exam is part of your new patient exam and regular dental check-ups.
Periodontal examinations are performed to evaluate the health of the gums and bone. They involve visual examination, evaluation of x-rays, and periodontal charting in which special instruments are used to measure criteria such as pocket depths, bleeding, inflammation, tooth mobility, and more. Pocket depths are evaluated using an instrument called a periodontal probe, which gently measures the space between the teeth and the gums. In healthy gums, this space is called the sulcus and measures three millimeters or less. In unhealthy gums, this space forms a deeper pocket and measures greater than three millimeters. A pocket is a sign of inflammation caused by gum disease. Pockets easily trap plaque and bacteria and as periodontal disease progresses, the pockets get deeper. The presence of bleeding, inflammation, and tooth mobility also indicate gum disease and are charted during the periodontal exam.
The dentist evaluates all of these criteria of the periodontal exam to determine the diagnosis of gum disease, including the severity (mild, moderate, or severe) and extent (localized or generalized) of disease. Some types of gum disease include gingivitis, chronic periodontitis, aggressive periodontitis, necrotizing periodontitis, and periodontitis caused by systemic disease.
*Please note the people depicted in the photographs are models and not real patients.*