Most patients are familiar with the common ways that a dentist tests and prods our teeth. If you ask a patient how a dentist evaluates our teeth, most are familiar with radiographs, the dental explorer, and possibly the air syringe that the dentist blows air and water on our teeth. Although these are the tools that all dentists have, we do have other tools at our disposal for helping with our evaluation of teeth and detecting the various problems that they can develop. In this short article I will detail some of our other tools and their use and usefulness.

All dentists have and should use a periodontal probe. This is a measuring probe that helps us evaluate the health of the periodontal crevices around teeth. A reading of 1-3 mm is considered normal, while 5 or more is considered evidence of a history of periodontal disease. Also bleeding on probing is evidence of inflammation being present and may indicate either poor oral hygiene and gingivitis or periodontal disease.

Percussion is performed often by using the back end of a dental mirror and using it to gently tap patient’s teeth. Often the patient reports that a problem tooth ‘feels different’ than the other healthy teeth when tapped on.

Magnifying Loupes are another important tool that dentists can use. These special glasses allow us to visualize teeth at 2-5X’s magnification and help us detect small problems before they become larger. They also can help us with our hand eye coordination, since your hands can only perform many small tasks if they can actually see the tiny manipulations that we need them to do.

Cotton Rolls are most often used to build absorbent barriers in the mouth that keep the cheeks or tongue away from teeth that need isolation. They also can be used to simulate chewing food. If a patient is complaining of pain on chewing, the dentist can ask the patient to bite down on a cotton roll until they find the tooth causing their pain and then the dentist can observe which tooth is causing their discomfort.

Q-tips are used to apply topical anesthetic, but also can be used as a probe to determine chewing sensitivity. They are used similarly to the way cotton rolls are used. The patient is asked to bite on the cotton part of the Q-tip until they feel the pain and by observing a dentist can infer which tooth is the culprit.

Ice cube probes are handy devices that dentists make from used anesthetic carpules or the plastic housings that disposable needles come in. These narrow ice probes can be held gently against teeth and can pinpoint either over or under sensitive teeth.

Hot Water, about the temperature of hot tea, can be used to determine the presence of heat sensitivity and can be applied using an irrigating syringe to individual teeth if necessary.

The Bonding Light is primarily used for curing composite, but it can be extremely useful in finding cracks in teeth and can also help detect decay. Teeth with cracks or decay do not always transmit light the same way that intact health teeth do.

These are just of few of our tools commonly used to help us with diagnosis it is not meant to be a complete list and many other techniques are useful. Hopefully this article has provided interesting information and is meant primarily for your education and entertainment.