Dental Procedure Pain: Get the Facts

What It Means When Your Hygienist Calls Out Numbers While Examining Your Gums

When you go in to the dentist's office for a dental cleaning, part of the cleaning often involves the hygienist checking your gums and calling out numbers. You may be wondering what this is all about. If you are too shy to ask the hygienist, the following information will help you understand why this is done.

Gum Tissue Coverage

Your gums are responsible for holding your teeth in place. There are many levels of tissue thickness and "length" that are considered acceptable and will effectively keep your teeth in your mouth. The hygienist checks the gum tissue to make sure it is adequate. He or she calls out the numbers of the measurements taken as a means of remembering what levels exist and then recording those measurements after calling them out. If the dentist takes the measurements, then the hygienist records them on the computer as they are called out.

What the Numbers Mean

The gum tissue is measured from zero to four.

Here are what those numbers mean:

  • "Zero" means that there is some exposure of the tooth below where the gum line should be, or that a tooth root is exposed. This is generally not good.
  • "One" means that the tissue is low, but it is still acceptable because it is holding the tooth in place as it should. No tooth roots are exposed.
  • "Two" means that the tissue is higher up on the tooth and/or a little thicker. This is a more ideal situation, especially for middle-aged people.
  • "Three" means that the gum tissue is exactly where dentists would like to see or expect to see it. Your gums are very healthy if the hygienist says it is "three".
  • "Four" is not that common, since this is really thick gum tissue that covers a large portion of the base of the tooth. Kids and teens are more likely to have "fours" than other age groups, but if you have "fours" as an adult, you are taking very good care of your gums.

These measurements are taken annually or semi-annually so that any loss in gum tissue can be monitored and charted. Sometimes this can be reversed if your oral hygiene gets better, which is another reason for the hygienist or dentist to perform this exam and evaluation before you get a dental cleaning. If you are concerned about your gum numbers, ask the hygienist for more information.