Periodontists: Periodontal & Dental Implant Specialists
A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of periodontal disease (a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the gums and bone supporting the teeth also known as gum disease), and in the placement of dental implants. Periodontists receive extensive training in both of these areas and more, including three additional years of education beyond dental school.
While some general dentists treat less serious periodontal cases, many will refer their patients to periodontists for the more challenging periodontal cases. Similarly, while some general dentists perform dental implant procedures, many will refer their patients to periodontists for the more challenging implant cases as well.
In addition to handling challenging periodontal and implant cases, periodontists also provide a variety of other specialized services. These include scaling and root planing (in which the infected surface of a tooth’s root is cleaned), root surface debridement (in which damaged root tissue is removed), oral inflammation treatment, and cosmetic periodontal procedures.
What Will My First Visit Be Like?
During your first visit, the periodontist usually reviews your complete medical and dental histories. It’s extremely important for the periodontist to know if you’re taking any medications or being treated for any condition that can affect periodontal care, such as heart disease, diabetes, or pregnancy.
Your periodontist will then examine your gums for any gum line recession, assess how your teeth come into contact with each other when biting, and check to see if any of your teeth are loose. Your periodontist will further evaluate the health of your gums by placing a small measuring instrument (called a probe) in the spaces between your teeth and gums (called periodontal pockets) to measure the depth of those spaces. X-rays may also be taken to observe the health of the bone below your gum line.
Why Might I Be Referred to a Periodontist?
If your general dentist refers you to a periodontist, it’s simply because the periodontist has the special skills, knowledge and experience to provide you with the type of periodontal treatment or implant procedure you need.
Referred for Periodontal Treatment
If you have periodontal disease, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, more that half of American adults age 30 and older have some form of periodontal disease. Some patients who require simple periodontal treatment can be managed by a general dentist. However, in light of extensive research suggesting that periodontal disease can be linked to stroke, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases, more challenging periodontal treatment may require a higher level of expertise that only a trained specialist in periodontology can provide.
Here are some possible reasons your general dentist might refer you to a periodontist for more advanced periodontal treatment:
- You have a moderate or severe level of periodontal disease, with such symptoms as:
- Bleeding, swollen or receding gums
- Loose teeth
- A change in your bite (how your upper and lower teeth come into contact with each other)
- Pain or discomfort within, around or underneath your gums.
- You have a personal or family history of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease, osteoporosis, or cancer.
- You’re a smoker, which increases your risk of acquiring advanced disease.
Referred for a Dental Implant Procedure
Periodontists are dentistry’s experts in the surgical placement of dental implants. There are two important reasons for your general dentist to refer you to a periodontist:
- Within the dental profession, periodontists are known as the masters of both hard tissue (teeth and bones) and soft tissue (gums, cheeks, etc.). Placing a successful dental implant requires extensive knowledge of both tissue types.
- Placing a dental implant is a surgical procedure, and the extra three years of education periodontists receive beyond dental school includes in-depth surgical training that most general dentists don’t receive.
Here are some possible reasons a periodontist might be required to place your dental implants:
- You need multiple implants, which is a more complex procedure with several optional approaches to consider.
- You have limited bone structure into which the implant can be inserted.
- Your implant will be placed in the upper back jaw near the sinus, which requires sinus augmentation to raise the sinus floor, develop enough bone for the implant, and create adequate space between the implant and the sinus.
Should I Be Concerned if I’m Referred to a Periodontist?
Quite the contrary! You should feel good that your general dentist wants you to receive the best care possible, and confident that you’ll be treated by a specialist who has four years of college education, four years of dental education, and at least three years of advanced training in periodontal dentistry and dental implants. What’s more, the chances are that your periodontist has done hundreds, if not thousands, of procedures similar to the one you’ll be having done.