Subgingival margin placement is necessary for several reasons: to hide the margin on a discolored tooth, to hide the margin when a more opaque restoration is placed, to chase old restorations or decay, and sometimes to increase the amount of tooth structure for the restoration.

When treatment planning for subgingival margin placement, it is very important to be aware of your patient's sulcus depth. Knowing how to prep your patient's teeth and where to place the gingival margins is essential if you want a predictable and esthetic final result. I personally have two rules when it comes to subgingival margin placement:

Rule 1: If probing depth is 1.5 mm or less, extend .5 to .7 mm below tissue.

subgingival margin placement figure 1

When patients have less than 1.5 mm of sulcus depth, you have a very small risk of recession. We know that the tissue won’t recede into the biologic attachment, so placing the margin more than .5 to .7 mm is unnecessary to hide the margin in shallow sulcus patients. In fact, even if you cut off all the tissue to bone, you will get regrowth of the tissue to recreate the attachment and at least a 1 mm sulcus.

That means in these patients the risk in prepping subgingival margins is going too deep and violating the attachment, which can result in inflammation. My rule in these cases is to always extend .5 to .7mm below tissue, but not any deeper, to avoid prepping too far into the attachment.

Rule 2: If the probing depth is greater than 1.5 mm, go half the depth of the sulcus below tissue, or perform a gingivectomy if possible, to reduce the sulcus depth and reduce the risk of recession.

subgingival margin placement figure 2

For cases that have a deeper sulcus, the risk of recession can be high. The reason there is a greater risk of recession is due to the unattached tissue. When there is 3 to 4 mm of sulcus depth, it means there is 3 to 4 mm of unattached tissue above the biologic attachment. It may be a stable tissue level if the tissue is very thick, but if the tissue is thin, it can easily recede and lose sulcus depth down to 1 or 2 mm, exposing your new margin.

Personally, if I see a patient that has at least 3 mm of sulcus depth, I evaluate the gingival levels and tooth proportion to see if I can perform a gingivectomy, reducing the sulcus depth to 1 or 1.5 mm. This reduces the risk of recession and I can follow Rule 1 above.

If the gingivectomy would result in unacceptable gingival levels, I usually plan on putting my margin below tissue half the depth of the sulcus (for a 3 mm sulcus, 1.5 mm below tissue). By doing this, if recession occurs, it will most likely stop before it exposes where the margins are placed. Of course this risk of recession means the final gingival levels may not be ideal, but it will be more esthetic than an exposed margin on a new restoration.

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Commenter's Profile Image Judy
February 3rd, 2014
Please can you give me the reference of this nice subject>>(The Two Rules of Subgingival Margin Placement) thank you
Commenter's Profile Image Roxanna Jean Esguerra
April 8th, 2015
When the sulcus depth is greater than 1.5 mm, rather than Rule 2, you can also use a staged approach. At the first appointment, the tooth is prepared, a cutting cord is placed, and the finish lines are placed according to established principals (Rule 1). A provisional crown is then placed, and the patient is reviewed in 1-2 weeks. If the excess sulcus depth is unstable, it will usually receed slightly due to the trauma of placing the retraction cord at the previous appointment. At the second appointment, the finish line placement can be refined according to the new tissue level, then final impressions can be made quite confidently without risk of further recession. For clinicians who prefer not to perform gingivectomies, this technique is quite predictable. It is described in greater detail in the reference below: Harrison JD, Chiche G and Pinault A (1994): Tissue management for the maxillary anterior region. In: Esthetics of Anterior Fixed Prosthodontics, GJ Chiche and A Pinault (Eds.). Quintessence Publishing Co.: Chicago, pp. 143-159. Practical guide for gingival tissue management during fabrication of restorations in aesthetically important zones. Discusses biological width and placement of restorative margins during tooth preparation, the fabrication of provisional restorations and the timing of final impressions. Overall--thanks, Frank. You have a unique ability to break the dauntingly complex into simple steps.