Periodontists: Gum Disease Experts

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What is a Periodontist?

Periodontists specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of gum diseases and the surrounding tissues of teeth. They also maintain the health, aesthetics, and function of these tissues and structures. The most common disease periodontists treat is periodontal disease (also known as PD or periodontitis — an advanced form of gingivitis). PD is a serious gum infection that severely damages a patient’s gums and jawbone.

Periodontists are experts in the placement of dental implants, also known as artificial tooth roots. Implants replace missing or extracted natural teeth due to periodontal disease, injury, or tooth decay.

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Difference between Periodontics and General Dentistry

The main difference is that dentists provide dental care for your teeth, gums, and other parts of the mouth, whereas a periodontist treats your soft tissues, gums, and the bones that support your teeth.

Common procedures performed by general dentists:
  • Oral health checkups & cleanings
  • Standard x-rays
  • Cavity fillings
  • Root canals
  • Tooth extractions
  • Crowns and bridges
Common procedures performed by periodontists:
  • Scaling and root planing
  • Dental crown lengthening
  • Gum grafts
  • Dental implant placement,
  • Pocket reduction
  • Cosmetic surgeries

Qualifications of Periodontists

In order to become a periodontist, these dental specialists must complete several years of education including:

  • A bachelor’s degree.
  • At least four years of dental school.
  • Three additional years of residency training.

In addition, periodontists must stay up-to-date on developments in the field of dental health in order to get recertified. They are also highly trained in performing cosmetic dental services.

Treatments and Procedures

Periodontists spend most of their time diagnosing, treating, and restoring mouths affected by periodontal diseases.

They specialize in scaling and root planing, dental crown lengthening, gum grafts, dental implant placement, pocket reduction, and cosmetic surgeries:

Scaling and Root Planing

Scaling and root planing removes plaque and calculus (tartar) from a patient’s teeth. During the procedure, a periodontist carefully cleans the tooth’s root to remove plaque and tartar from deep periodontal pockets.

They may also clean under the gums (subgingival) if the bacteria has spread to less visible parts of the mouth. Then they smooth the roots to remove any remaining toxins and bacteria and stop gingivitis before it turns into advanced gum disease.

Dental Crown Lengthening

Crown lengthening restores decayed teeth or teeth broken below the gum line. When teeth cannot be restored with dental crowns or dental bridges, crown lengthening is the next option.

During the procedure, a periodontist reshapes gum tissue to expose more of the natural tooth. Lengthening restores a “gummy smile.”

Dental Implants

When tooth loss occurs due to periodontal disease, dental implants commonly replace the missing tooth. An implant, also known as an artificial tooth root, is similar in shape to a screw.

A periodontist surgically inserts the implant into the patient’s jawbone, which bonds with the natural bone. Periodontists are experts in the diagnosis, treatment, and placement of implants due to severe gum diseases.

Pocket Reduction

Pocket reduction surgery, also referred to as flap surgery, removes bacteria living under the gums. During the procedure, a periodontist uses small instruments to lift the gums back and remove tartar.

This treatment option also eliminates some of the space between the tooth and gums, which reduces the chance of further damage caused by periodontal disease.

Cosmetic Surgery

In addition to performing surgical procedures to restore teeth and gums due to severe gum diseases, periodontists also specialize in cosmetic procedures. These treatments help restore a patient’s natural smile:

  • Gummy Smiles — periodontists specialize in lengthening dental crowns and fixing uneven gum lines. During the procedure, any excess gum tissue is removed and the gum line is sculpted to ensure the teeth are covered evenly.
  • Exposed Rootsgum recession, which occurs when the gum tissues around teeth wear away, causes exposed tooth roots. This makes the teeth look longer than they are and results in a “gummy smile.” Periodontists use gum graft surgery to cover the exposed roots and protect teeth from decay.
  • Gum or Jaw Indentations — indentations can occur after tooth loss. This causes the artificial teeth to look unnatural and uneven compared to the surrounding natural teeth. Periodontists typically use ridge augmentation to restore the natural contour of the gums and jaw.

Periodontist FAQs

What is the difference between a dentist and a periodontist?

In simple terms, dentists treat teeth, gums, and other parts of the mouth, whereas a periodontist treats your gums, and the bones that support your teeth.

Why would you see a periodontist?

If your dentist finds symptoms of gingivitis or periodontal disease during a dental visit they will recommend a consultation with a periodontist. Symptoms of gum disease include bad breath, red or swollen gums, bleeding gums during flossing, painful chewing, loose teeth, and receding gums.

What does a periodontist do?

A periodontist treats the soft tissue, gums, and bone structures that make up your mouth.

How much does it cost to see a periodontist?

Gum disease treatments have a huge range of costs, from $500 to $10,000.

Does a periodontist pull teeth?

Yes, a periodontist can pull teeth as well as treat the damaged gum and bone tissue around the tooth.

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Resources

Hollins, Carole. Basic Guide to Dental Procedures. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015.

National Institutes of Health (NIH). Periodontal (Gum) Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments. NIH Publication, 2013. https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/sites/default/files/2017-09/periodontal-disease_0.pdf

Syrbu, John DDS. The Complete Pre-Dental Guide to Modern Dentistry. 2013.

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Updated on: October 20, 2020
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Alyssa Hill
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