Dental Pockets – What they are and what they mean

As the name implies, a dental pocket is an opening – shaped like a tiny little pocket – inside the mouth that opens up in the space between the gums and the teeth where the gum should normally be close and tight against the tooth. Of course this is not a normally healthy condition, and for that reason dental pockets generally are seen as an indication of gum disease, which is also technically known as periodontal disease. The first stage of significant gum problems is called gingivitis, and during this phase the gums become sore, inflamed, and bleed easily. If you notice that when you brush or floss it causes excessive bleeding or hurts a lot, you may want to have your dentist check to see if you have a potential gingivitis condition developing.

If this initial kind of gum infection goes untreated, it normally evolves into the more serious stage of periodontitis – and this is when the disease has spread into the base of the teeth and is infecting the pink gum tissue. As the tissue gets more and more infected with harmful bacteria, it loses its strength and starts to recede or pull away from the tooth. Powerful bacteria can break down both the gums and the tooth enamel, and as the bacteria works it hollows out a space between the gums and the teeth which forms the so-called dental pocket.

Having a pocket there is risky, because the base or root portion of the tooth is no longer nurtured and protected by a healthy gum. That means that infections can grow and if left unchecked they can attack the root of the tooth – which is where the tooth derives its structural support and nutritional sustenance.

When you have a dental checkup, the hygienist or dentist will use small probing instruments to check for pockets in the gums, and they will also measure these to keep tabs on whether they are getting too large. Most healthy patients will have small recessions that are less than three millimeters wide. If the space expands to greater than three millimeters, is it getting into the danger zone and the dentist will treat the gums to kill any infection that might be present. The dentist also uses images taken of your teeth from X-rays to look for unwanted gaps and dental pockets, which is why it is important to maintain routine dental visits.

If your gums are in seriously ill condition, then the dentist may need to root out the disease before it threatens to destroy your tooth. This is sometimes done by cleaning and scraping away plaque while also removing any infected gum tissue. The area is treated with antibiotics and then the gums are able to get healthy again. In the most severe cases a dentist will perform periodontal surgery to get deep down into the base or root of the tooth behind the infected gums. The same process of cleaning out bacteria and treating the infected area follows, and after you have sufficient time to heal the dentist will do a follow-up checkup to make sure the gums are healing nicely.

Dr. Kelaher

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