Is there a problem with your probing technique?

I was on-site doing a private workshop for a new client recently and one of the hygienists (practicing for over 20 years) had a huge mindset shift on how to use the periodontal probe.

It wasn’t easy for her as the concepts I was teaching her went against what she was taught in school and what she has been doing all these years. It involved angling the probe into the interproximal (col) space and under the contact. 

As we talked, she mentioned that she’s always wondered why she would fall into deep defects in the interproximal while scaling but then she couldn’t confirm the depth with her probe. It was very frustrating.

Then there was the AHA moment…

She was probing only on the line angle. Her probe wasn’t reaching under the contact and that’s why she couldn’t get the same probing depths she was feeling with the scaler.

This shift in thinking took her WAY out of her comfort zone but she did it! And I am SO proud of her!

I want to give you two resources to share with your team on this topic. It’s somewhat ‘controversial’ so I want you to have some resources other than me. 🙂

1.  A super article Underestimation of Periodontal Disease written a few years ago by Trisha O’Hehir- speaker, educator, editor of Hygienetown magazine and founder of O’Hehir University.

2.  We use this image in our private workshops during the probing calibration exercise. This is from Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist, 9th edition by Esther Wilkins.

Notice how it illustrates crossing the long axis of the tooth and probing into the col space under the contact. If you do not tip the probe into the col space, accurate measurement of this area is not possible.



These are great tools to use at your next hygiene team meeting. Set aside some time for probing calibration and see what AHA moments you experience.

Stay Inspired,

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11 comments on “Is there a problem with your probing technique?
  1. bobby says:

    thanks Rachel! Great read…

  2. Rachel says:

    Glad you enjoyed it Bobby!

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  4. Amanda K says:

    thanks for the eye opener, especially about the angle.

  5. Rachel says:

    Thank you for your comment! Glad you enjoyed the post

  6. Thanks, great tip! I’ve shared it with my hygienist team and glad I’m not the only one who knows about this, you help to reinforce what I was taught in perio school but somehow is missed in dental and hygiene schools.

    • Monica Hernandez says:

      I was thought this concept in hygiene school however my most recent employer believes the opposite. I recently called out a 7 mm pocket and she called it a 5 mm maximum. I feel frustrated because she told me to ask the top hygienist in the office, so I did and to my surprise she also believes on probing parallel to the long axis of the tooth on all surfaces 🙁

  7. Rachel says:

    Thanks Dr. Braun- I’m happy to have you confirm this concept.

  8. Alyssa says:

    I almost ALWAYS get deeper pockets on the linguals of mandibular molars. Is this normal or something with my technique?

  9. Rachel says:

    Thanks Alyssa- that’s a great question. If you are getting deeper readings in the interprox areas of the lower molars, perhaps you are angling too much into the col space. If you’re getting deeper readings on the direct linguals, I’d say that could be likely due to fact that patients often have a hard time reaching those areas and they are often inflamed, or could it be a factor in how you’re reading the probe because its difficult to see. Not sure but investigate and see if any of these could be the reason.

  10. Sandro Gonzalez says:

    I am a patient. My gums never bleed. I floss and brush every day. My dentist tells me that I grind my teeth, which is the cause of my deep pockets (is this possible?). When the hygienist does the probe test I can feel the probe sliding in with no pain, until I feel it touch bottom – then it feels as if the hygienist is actually stabbing me with the probe, so I feel quite a bit of pain, and I can taste blood. Is this a normal sensation, or is it possible the hygienist is pushing too hard (i.e. trying to get a deep reading when maybe it is not so deep). Please advise.

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