If you’ve had your gum health measured, you may recall your hygienist calling out numbers and telling you that numbers lower than “3” are healthy while numbers higher than “3” are not healthy. You might remember listening for “1’s” and “2’s” and wondering what it means when you hear “4’s, 5’s, and 6’s.” What the hygienist is measuring is the depth of the gum pocket around the teeth (that space in the gum next to the tooth where the popcorn skin gets stuck). This depth is measured in millimeters, so if you hear a 2, your gum pocket is 2mm deep. If you hear a 7, the gum pocket is 7mm deep. Decades of research shows that, with proper home care (brushing, flossing, water pick, etc) we can clean as deep as 3mm, but no deeper. At the base of the pockets deeper than 3mm, bacteria can live without being disrupted. Bad bacteria hide out here and cause an infection in your gums. This infection is called gum disease or periodontal disease. One of the main reasons you should have your teeth professionally cleaned every 6 months is to make sure that all of those pockets are cleaned out, especially the pockets deeper than 3mm.
But, what happens if you have deep gum pockets? Traditionally, the treatment for deep pockets is to have your hygienist clean out the deep pockets in a procedure called scaling and root planing or deep cleaning. The hygienist uses her instruments to scrape your teeth underneath the gum line in order to disrupt the bacterial infection and to smooth the roots of your teeth. For most people this is not a comfortable procedure. After treatment, patients often start trying to improve their oral hygiene because they don’t want to undergo this procedure again. Still, research shows that once patients have had one deep cleaning, they are almost certain to need this procedure every few years for the rest of their life. Until now.
New technologies and treatments for gingivitis and gum disease have emerged in the last decade. Perhaps the most impressive is Perio Protect Tray Treatment. Perio Protect is a system that uses specialized trays that fit over your teeth and gums. The trays deliver low percentage peroxide gel to the bottom of the deep pockets (up to 10-11mm). The peroxide turns into oxygen which kills the bacterial infection. With the infection gone, your body is able to heal itself and, oftentimes, repair (and shrink) the pockets. At Intown Smile Studio, it is normal for this treatment to reduce your gum measurement numbers. It is not uncommon for “7’s” to heal into “3’s.” Dr. Estep has been using this technology for may years for thousands of periodontal patients. She has found that after her patients heal, if they continue to use their trays for maintenance, they never slip back into periodontal disease. For this reason, Perio Protect is Dr. Estep’s first choice in treating gum disease.
If you have periodontal disease, in addition to deep gum pockets, you may also have tartar (calculus) on the roots of your teeth under the gum line. This tartar creates a safe haven for bacterial infection. When left alone, the tartar will continue to build on your teeth and roots in a way similar to barnacles on the bottom of a boat. The solution is to have a hygienist remove the tartar. In the presence of periodontal infection and deep pockets, your gums are inflamed and bleed easily. The inflammation is your body’s response to try to fight the chronic infection in your gums. Removing the tartar in this environment is not only painful, it also allows large amounts of the bacterial infection to spread into your bloodstream and increase the inflammatory response throughout your body. Until recently, this was the only treatment available for periodontal disease.
Now, with Perio Protect Trays, you wear the trays for several weeks to kill the bacterial infection. After the infection is gone, then the hygienist removes the tartar from the root surfaces. This treatment is more comfortable, less invasive, and healthier overall.