A total of 1,128 sites in 15 periodontal maintenance patients were examined twice, 7 to 10 days apart, to evaluate reproducibility of periodontal probing by a conventional manual and an automated force-controlled electronic probe. Probing depths (PD) and relative attachment levels (AL) were recorded to the nearest 0.5 mm with both instruments. At each visit, all sites were probed first with the conventional and then with the electronic probe. Reproducibility of PD at shallow sites (PD < or = 3 mm) by the manual probe was 59.1% for exact agreement and 98.6% within +/- 1.0 mm variation. For the electronic probe, corresponding values were 41.3% and 91.5%, respectively. Reproducibility of PD measurements at deeper sites (PD > 3 mm), was 33.0% for exact match and 96.4% within +/- 1.0 mm for the manual and, correspondingly, 31.7% and 85.9% for the electronic probe. Reproducibility of AL followed a similar pattern, but was consistently lower than for PD. Reproducibility was consistently higher for anterior than for posterior sites and, for some comparisons, higher in the maxilla than in the mandible. These differences were smaller for the manual than for the electronic probe. Time required to complete the probing was longer for the conventional probe than for the electronic instrument. Under the prevailing study conditions, the automated force-controlled electronic probe failed to offer significant advantages over the conventional manual probe.
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