If your dentist refers you to a periodontist, it’s because there are concerns involving your gums, or the tissues and other structures that surround and support your teeth.
Periodontics is a dental specialty that deals with the preventing, diagnosing, and treating of diseases relating to the gums. Periodontics also involves the maintaining of the gums so they remain healthy, functional, and looking good.
The gums and the bone beneath them anchor the teeth into the mouth. Gums tissue also provides a protective layer between the roots of teeth and the jawbone. Healthy gums help prevent dental problems, however the gums are also susceptible to bacteria that can cause inflammation and infection. This can lead to bone-loss and ultimately to the loss of teeth. Recently, research has even linked periodontal disease to other health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
A dental specialist in periodontics is a periodontist. A periodontist handles the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of periodontal disease. A periodontist can also improve a patient’s smile using cosmetic periodontal procedures. If dental implants are necessary to replace missing teeth, a periodontist handles their placement.
Some of the other specialized dental procedures periodontists perform include:
- Dental Crown Lengthening
- Dental Implants
- Gum Graft Surgery
- Laser Treatment
- Pocket Reduction Procedures
- Plastic Surgery Procedures
- Regenerative Procedures
- Root Surface Debridement
- Scaling and Root Planing
- Tray Delivery System
Periodontists generally receive an additional 2-3 years of post-graduate dental training focused explicitly on diagnosing, treating, and preventing gum disease and related issues. They are also versed in all the latest techniques developed for improving the diagnosis and treatment of periodontal disease.
In an initial appointment, a periodontist will typically review a patient’s full dental and medical histories. A periodontist needs to know of any medications the patient is taking and any conditions the patient is being treated for—like diabetes, heart disease, or pregnancy—that can influence their periodontal care.
During a typical periodontal appointment the periodontist will examine the patient’s gums to see how the teeth fit together as they bite down, identify any recession of the gum line, and search for loose teeth. In addition, the periodontist places a small measuring tool called a probe between the teeth and gums in order to check the depth of those spaces, called “periodontal pockets”. The periodontist may also take x-rays if he or she feels it’s necessary to examine the bone beneath the gum line.
Most times, a general dentist will refer a patient to a periodontist if he or she observes signs of periodontal disease. In more recent times, dentists have also started referring aging patients to periodontists for preventative maintenance, based on research suggesting a correlation between periodontal disease and other chronic conditions associated with aging. A general dentist can handle minor periodontal issues, but for more moderate to severe periodontal concerns, or for more intricate cases, a collaboration between the general dentist and a periodontist is the best form of dental care management for the patient.
Usually your dentist will tell you whether or not you need to see a periodontist, but here are some signs to look for that you may need to consider seeing a periodontal specialist:
- you observe signs of periodontal disease, such as infected or receding gums
- your teeth feel too short to you or your smile seems to bare too much of your gums
- you’re not happy with your current options for replacing missing teeth
- you’re considering becoming pregnant (pregnant women with periodontal disease are 7 times more likely to have
- children with small birth weight, and 50% of pregnant women experience gingivitis during their pregnancy)
- a family member has periodontal disease and you want to prevent contracting it yourself
- you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, or respiratory disease
The best form of periodontal treatment, of course, is prevention. If you brush your teeth and floss every day, and get your teeth and gums checked regularly by your general dentist, you can go a long way towards preventing the need for anything other than preventative periodontics.