Avoid tears and fears when probing

Nov. 1, 2022
Did learning to probe send you over the edge in dental hygiene school? Does it still do that some days? These 3 tips from Hygiene Edge can make it easier.

“I couldn’t even see what I was doing through my tears” a student said when she referred to learning how to periodontal probe. She was able to laugh about it later, but probing had pushed her over the edge. When I ask students what the hardest skill is to learn their first year of dental hygiene school, they often say probing. 

Probing is a fundamental skill to master as a dental hygienist. Probe depths are an essential assessment tool in diagnosing periodontal disease. The more accurate your probing, the more accurate the diagnosis and monitoring of the disease process. So, how can we avoid the tears and fears when it comes to learning this important skill? 

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Here are three tips that helped me become confident in my periodontal assessment with the probe. 

  • Light grasp and pressure: Probing does not need pushing into the sulcus. The probe is designed to fit into the sulcus without force. Use a feather light grasp as you guide the probe gently into the sulcus until you are met with resistance from the junctional epithelium.
  • Adaptation: To keep the probe parallel to the long axis of the tooth, I keep 2 mm of the probe in contact with the tooth surface. This allows me to enter the pocket and feel the morphology of the root in order to maintain the parallel orientation of the probe to the tooth surface as I use the walking stroke. With the probe parallel, the last 2 mm in contact with the tooth, and the tactile feedback I get from my grasp, I can then accurately navigate the line angles of the tooth as I approach the col.
  • Access: The col is typically where we find the most involved periodontal pockets and it is necessary to accurately assess the depth of those pockets. The accuracy not only helps in diagnosis but also helps identify the response of the patient to our nonsurgical periodontal treatment efforts. When I’m at the line angle, I continue my bobbing, walking stroke until I cannot continue interproximally without changing the angle. I then change the angle 10 degrees out to drop into the col pocket. 

Try these tips the next time you are probing to help you effectively and efficiently gather the information that helps you recognize and treat disease in your patients. Looking for more tips to help with probing? Be sure to watch the video above, as well this Periodontal Probing video on YouTube, and avoid the tears and fears when learning this fundamental skill. 

Hygiene Edge was created from three dental hygiene educators who love both dentistry and education. With over 40 years of experience both in education and the dental field, Melia Lewis, Jessica Atkinson, and Shelley Brown love sharing their knowledge online through helpful, short videos online, speaking, and working with amazing companies. You can find more information at Hygiene Edge, on YouTube (youtube.com/hygieneedge), and Instagram (@hygieneedge). Have a question or a tricky area? Let us know! We’d love to help.