A periodontist is a fully trained dentist who specializes in treating periodontal disease (advanced gum disease) and the placement of dental implants. To put it more simply, you can think of a periodontist as a dentist who specializes in caring for your gums.
After completing dental school and earning their dental degree, a dentist must complete an additional three years of specialized training in order to become a periodontist. During this training the dentist becomes an expert in the gums and their underlying bone structures, the placement of dental implants and both the surgical and non-surgical treatments for gum disease.
The conditions that periodontists most commonly treat are gingivitis, periodontal disease (gum disease) and tooth loss. These conditions can also be thought of as a progression. Left unattended, gingivitis develops into periodontal disease, which can lead to tooth loss. The role of the periodontist is to intervene at whichever stage the patient is at and try to create the best possible outcome for their oral health.
The treatment that periodontists may be best known for is a deep cleaning, also called a scaling and root planing. This is a procedure specific to the treatment of periodontitis which involves removing debris and infection-causing bacteria from the pockets that develop between inflamed gums and the teeth. Repeated deep cleanings are essential to keeping periodontal disease from advancing to the point of tooth loss.
A periodontist’s specific knowledge of the gums and jawbone structures makes them the ideal specialists for replacing teeth with dental implants. Dental implants are artificial tooth roots that are inserted into the bone and gums. Periodontists also perform related procedures, such as bone grafting. In a patient with bone loss due to missing teeth or periodontal disease, bone grafting can be used to reinforce or “grow” more bone so that a dental implant can be placed securely.
Periodontists also perform some cosmetic treatments that involve the soft tissues of the mouth. Gum re-contouring can fix gums that have receded due to gum disease, giving the smile a healthier look. Crown lengthening can expose more of the hard tooth structure, giving teeth a longer appearance or fixing a “gummy” smile.
While all dentists are trained to care for your gums, periodontists offer care for advanced or complex cases, including those where additional health complications may be involved. That’s why it’s very important to see your periodontist regularly if your general dentist has referred you to one. The periodontist and your dentists will work together to ensure you are getting all the treatment you need to keep your smile as healthy and functional as possible.