Diagnosis of Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is diagnosed by your dentist or hygienist during a periodontal examination. This type of exam is included as a part of your regular dental check up. The dentist or dental hygienist uses a periodontal probe (specialized dental instrument) to gently measure the sulcus (space) between the gums and teeth. The depth of the sulcus is one key parameter used to diagnose periodontal disease. The depth of a healthy sulcus will measure 3 millimeters or less and will not bleed. As periodontal disease progresses this sulcus depth generally deepens. This sulcus depth along with other clinical signs and x-rays helps the dentist quantify the amount of bone loss a patient has sustained from periodontal disease and how far the disease has progressed.


Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease. It is characterized by gums that are tender, inflamed, and likely to bleed. This irritation is caused by plaque and the toxins it produces. According to data gathered by the American Dental Association over 75% of adults will suffer from gingivitis at some point in their lives. Of this population about 25% will progress to later stages of periodontal disease.


Plaque begins to harden into calculus (tartar) after about 12-48 hours. As calculus and plaque begin to build up it becomes increasingly difficult to clean your teeth. Once this build up occurs the only way to remove it is with a professional cleaning. If calculus is not removed it will irritate your gums causing bleeding and inflammation. These are signs of an active infection of the gums.

Advanced Periodontitis

As periodontal disease progresses, the infection in the gums begins to destroy the bone supporting the teeth. This bone loss will cause the affected teeth to become very loose and may be lost. The bone loss will continue until a professional cleaning is completed and proper home care is achieved.