A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in the structures that support the teeth, such as the gums, bones, ligaments, tissue and jaw. Periodontists primarily treat, diagnose and work to prevent periodontal disease, commonly referred to as gum disease, or periodontitis, which is advanced gum disease.
While you would visit your dentist to have your teeth examined and cleaned or to get a filling or crown, you would visit a periodontist for any issues concerning the gums or other areas around the tooth, such as gum recession, swollen or bleeding gums or pain in the jaw.
Periodontists complete dental school and then receive additional training in a three-year periodontal residency. This extended training is necessary because periodontists perform advanced procedures and surgeries, such as:
damaged tissue removal
bone- and tissue-loss reversal
surgical procedures for advanced gum disease
What else can a periodontist do?
One of the most common procedures periodontists perform is scaling and root planing, which cleans and smooths the root surface of the tooth to remove bacteria and prevent more bacteria from building up in the future.
Periodontists can also perform gum graft surgery to help with gum recession; dental crown lengthening, which can help with a "gummy" smile; pocket reduction, which attaches gum tissue that has pulled away from the tooth; and plastic surgery to improve the appearance of the teeth, gums and jaw.
When should I see a periodontist?
Most likely your dentist will refer you to a periodontist if you have a problem he can’t care for, but here are a few signs to look for that may mean you need to see a periodontist:
1. Swollen or bleeding gums
This could be a sign that you already have or are on your way to getting periodontal disease.
2. Receding gums
This could also be a sign of periodontal disease. While some gum recession is normal as we age, if you notice an abnormal amount of gum recession in your mouth, you may need to see a periodontist.
3. Sensitive or loose teeth
If you have periodontal disease, the infection in your gums could cause your teeth to pull away from the gum tissue, resulting in loose teeth. Gum recession can expose the root of your teeth and cause sensitivity to hot or cold foods.
When in doubt, visit your dentist, tell her about your concerns and let her recommend next steps.
What is an appointment with a periodontist like?
A visit to the periodontist is very similar to a routine visit to your dentist. You will go to the periodontist’s office, check in at the front desk and then when your name is called you will be shown to a room with a chair where you will sit for your examination.
The periodontist will examine your teeth, perhaps take some x-rays and then will determine the best treatment plan for you, whether that’s surgery or another hygiene or dental practice to incorporate into your at-home routine.
Should I be worried if my dentist refers me to a periodontist?
No, not at all. Visiting the periodontist is common. Unfortunately, this is because periodontal disease is common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 64 million adults in the U.S. age 30 and above have some form of periodontal disease. For older adults age 65 and above, periodontal disease is even more common. According to the CDC, 70% of this population has periodontitis, the more severe form of gum disease.
Though these statistics are concerning, you can know that if you ever have to visit a periodontist, you are not alone. (These numbers might also encourage you to take up flossing again.)