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Gum pockets are spaces between the edges of the gums and the teeth. Healthy patients typically have very small gum pockets, reflecting the presence of healthy, strong connective tissue. People with periodontal disease will experience an increase in the size of the gum pockets, caused by breakdown of the collagen used to keep the gums fixed in place. This can be dangerous to the patient's health, as each pocket can trap infectious material and contribute to tooth decay and other oral health problems.
When people go to the dentist for checkups, one of the things the dentist will do is assess the health of the gums, also known as the gingiva. A tool called a periodontal probe can be inserted into the gum pockets to see if they are unusually deep or have changed size since the last visit. The doctor will also look for evidence of receding gums, along with other warning signs like puffiness and redness around the gums.
The deeper the gum pockets, the more detritus they can collect. People with periodontal disease will accumulate food debris, bacteria, and other materials. These can create infections, resulting in bone loss around the jaw and teeth, loss of the protective outer layers of the teeth, and damage to the gums themselves. Left untreated, the consequences can be severe. Patients may lose their teeth and can experience complications like bacteremia, where bacteria enter the bloodstream and expose the patient to the risk of sepsis.
If a dentist identifies deep gum pockets and other signs of gum disease, interventions can be offered. These may include changing dental hygiene habits, increasing the amount of brushing and flossing. Special mouthwash can be used to keep the mouth healthy, and patients may also need to make dietary modifications. Patients will also need careful cleanings and frequent checkups. In some cases, surgery may be required, although the goal is to identify gum disease before it requires surgical treatment.
Dentists will note the depth of the gum pockets on patient charts for future reference. If the pockets start to get deep quickly, the doctor will want to find out why. If they shrink, it shows that a patient is responding to treatment for gum disease and the health of the gums is starting to improve. Over time, the connective tissue can recover, providing more protection to the teeth and jaw. The patient will still need to be vigilant about dental care to prevent a recurrence of disease.
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