Dentists vs Periodontists

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Medically Reviewed
by Dr. Lara Coseo
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What is the Difference Between a Dentist and a Periodontist?

While a dentist is not a periodontist, a periodontist is a dentist.

So what is the difference between a dentist and a periodontist? Both dental professionals work in the oral healthcare industry but a periodontist offers less dental care services than a dentist.

TreatmentCost

Basically, a periodontist is a dental specialist who is an expert in preventing, diagnosing, and treating periodontal disease and dental implant placements.

Periodontics is just one of 10 specialty branches of dentistry that have been approved and adopted by the National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards:

  1. Periodontics
  2. Dental Anesthesiology
  3. Dental Public Health
  4. Endodontics
  5. Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
  6. Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
  7. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  8. Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
  9. Pediatric Dentistry
  10. Prosthodontics

3 Key Differences Between General Dentists and Periodontists

The key differences between these two dentists include:

1. Daily Job Responsibilities/Specialization

General dentists manage routine dental checkups, provide oral health education to their patients, and take x-rays. They also extract and clean teeth.

These dentists diagnose and treat broken and decaying teeth, gum inflammation, and the supporting bones of teeth. More complex cases are often referred to a periodontist, such as gum grafts for recession. General dentists can also perform more complex procedures (but they do not specialize in them).

Periodontists are trained and skilled in advanced surgical procedures, including periodontal plastic surgery, dental implant placement, and regenerative surgery. These specialists are experts in treating cases of severe gum disease (periodontitis).

2. Education Level/Credentials

While a dentist can offer some gum services, they’d need to undergo specific training and education beyond dental school to become a periodontist.

A general dentist must earn an undergraduate and dental degree.

A periodontist has to receive two to three additional years of periodontics training beyond that. They train to gain experience in non-surgical and surgical periodontal procedures, as well as dental implant placements.

3. Salary

Since periodontists are more specialized, they often have higher salaries than general dentists. Treatments are also more expensive in most cases.

General dentists make an average of $125,000 a year, while periodontists make an average of $168,000 a year.

When Should I See a General Dentist?

Most oral healthcare professionals recommend that you visit a general dentist or an oral hygienist for checkups about once every six months. This is to maintain good oral hygiene and to prevent diseases.

You may choose to visit a dentist more often, however, if you need certain treatments for specific oral health issues.

What Type of Procedures Does a General Dentist Perform?

Common treatments offered by general dentists include:

  • General teeth cleaning
  • Deep cleanings
  • X-rays
  • Preventive dental treatments
  • Cavity fillings
  • Dental crowns
  • Root canals
  • Cosmetic dental treatments
  • Orthodontics
  • Teeth whitening
  • Some tooth extractions
  • Some non-surgical and surgical periodontal treatments

When Should I See a Periodontist?

You should see a periodontist for any oral health services related to the soft tissue supporting your teeth and jawbone. Your general dentist may not be able to offer you the services you need. They may recommend that you visit a periodontist for periodontal care instead.

You may know it’s time for a dental visit to the periodontist if you have red, inflamed, tender, or receding gums, loose teeth, or bad breath that won’t go away:

1. Gum Disease Symptoms

The early stage of gum disease is difficult to notice at first because it doesn't typically cause pain. However, if you experience the following symptoms, you should visit a periodontist for an exam:

  • Red, swollen, or tender gums
  • Inflammation around the teeth, which can also extend under the gums
  • Bleeding gums, typically while brushing
  • Loose or sensitive teeth when consuming hot or cold substances
  • Gum recession, which is when the gums pull away from the teeth
  • Pus between the gums and teeth
  • Sudden teeth misalignment, also called malocclusion
  • Lingering bad breath, which may not disappear after brushing
  • Partial dentures that do not fit properly anymore

To prevent these symptoms from getting worse, you'll need to visit a periodontist for a deep cleaning. Scaling and root planing (deep cleaning) removes plaque and calculus (tartar) from your tooth roots.

2. Gum Recession

Receding gums is when the gum tissue around teeth wears away, causes exposed tooth roots. This makes the teeth look longer than they are. Periodontists use gum graft surgery to cover the exposed roots and protect teeth from decay.

2. Loose Teeth

If your gums are swollen, bleeding, or inflamed (and you have loose teeth), it is a sign that you have advanced gum disease. You'll need to visit a periodontist as soon as possible. They can try and save your teeth with treatment.

What Type of Procedures Does a Periodontist Perform?

Common procedures offered by periodontists include:

  • Non-surgical and surgical gum disease treatments
  • Periodontal therapy
  • Scaling and root planing (cleaning of infected root surfaces)
  • Root surface debridement (removal of damaged tissue)
  • Regenerative procedures (rebuilding lost bone and tissue)
  • Placement of dental implants
  • Dental implant tightening
  • Dental implant cleaning
  • Medication prescriptions

Common Questions and Answerss

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about periodontists.

Can a periodontist do fillings?

Yes, a periodontist can do fillings among other treatment options. Periodontists may perform minor restorations on the teeth as needed to support healthy attachment of bone and gums to the teeth. More commonly, your general dentist and periodontist will work together to determine which restorations are necessary to support great gum health.  

Does a periodontist pull teeth?

Yes, a periodontist can pull teeth. Because a periodontist has advanced experience in treating the gums and bone of your mouth, many dental patients choose to see a periodontist (over a general dentist) for tooth extractions.

What is the difference between a periodontist and an oral surgeon?

The main difference between a periodontist and an oral surgeon is that a periodontist focuses on gum and bone health, while an oral surgeon provides an array of surgical procedures on the mouth, jaw, and face.

Is a periodontist better than a general dentist?

Periodontists are better than general dentists in treating gum-related oral health issues. They are trained and skilled in advanced surgical procedures, including periodontal plastic surgery, dental implant placement, and regenerative surgery.

Resources

The Difference Between a Dentist and Periodontist, http://www.periodontalhealthcenter.com/Blog/The-Difference-Between-a-Dentist-and-Periodontist/

Implant Periodontic Specialists · published December 23, et al. “Periodontist vs. Dentist (What's the Difference?): Periodontist Bellevue WA.” Implant & Periodontic Specialists, 13 July 2020, www.implantandperiodonticspecialists.com/blog/periodontist-vs-dentist/

“Periodontics.” Mouth Healthy TM, www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/p/periodoncia

“Periodontist And Oral Surgeon Differences.” Les Parodontistes, 26 Sept. 2017, lesparodontistes.com/en/what-is-the-difference-between-a-periodontist-and-an-oral-surgeon/.

Specialty Definitions, www.ada.org/en/ncrdscb/dental-specialties/specialty-definitions

“When Should You See a Periodontist?” IMPLANT PERIO CENTER, 17 Aug. 2018, www.implantperiocenter.com/when-should-you-see-a-periodontist/.

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