Background: The aim of the present study, performed during periodontal recall visits, was to compare the levels of pain experienced by patients during periodontal probing using probes with tip diameters of either 0.40 mm or 0.63 mm.
Methods: Three groups of 20 adult patients were examined by three different therapists. Diagonal maxillary/mandibular quadrants were probed with a 0.40 mm and a 0.63 mm probe, respectively. At the completion of probing of each quadrant, the patients were asked to describe their pain using a visual analog scale (VAS).
Results: Most patients showed low VAS pain scores for both probes. However, using an arbitrary threshold of VAS > or =40 mm to indicate significant pain, some patients had a painful experience. Lower median pain responses following probing with the 0.63 mm probe compared to the 0.40 mm probe were observed for patients of therapist 1, and for the quartile of all 60 patients that showed the highest VAS scores. For therapist 2 and 3 groups, no differences were found. The pain levels expressed by the three groups of patients varied, confirming results of our previous studies, which also observed differences in patients' pain experiences following probing by different therapists.
Conclusions: The ability to deliver dental care with a minimum of patient discomfort would seem to be an essential part of the skills of individual clinicians. We would like to suggest that dental therapists periodically evaluate this part of their skill by asking patients to express their pain experiences following various procedures using VAS scales.