What is a Periodontist?
A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in the soft tissues of the mouth and the underlying jawbone which supports the teeth. A dentist must first graduate from an accredited dental school before undertaking an additional three years of study within a periodontology residency training program, in order to qualify as a periodontist.
The primary focus of this residency training is on both surgical and non surgical management of periodontal disease and the placement of dental implants.
Conditions Treated by a Periodontist
The periodontist is mainly concerned with: preventing the onset of gum disease (periodontal disease); diagnosing conditions affecting the gums and jawbone; and treating gingivitis, periodontitis, and bone loss. Periodontal disease is a progressive condition and the leading cause of tooth loss among adults in the developed world.
The periodontist is able to treat mild, moderate and advanced gum disease by first addressing the bacterial infection at the root of the problem, providing periodontal treatment, then providing information and education on good oral hygiene and the effective cleaning of the teeth.
The most common conditions treated by a periodontist are:
Gingivitis – This is the mild inflammation of the gums which may or may not be signified by pain and bleeding.
Mild/moderate periodontitis – When the pockets between the teeth and the soft tissues are measured to be between 4-6mm it is classified as moderate periodontitis (gum disease).
Advanced periodontitis – When the pockets between the teeth and the soft tissues in general exceed 6mm in depth, significant bone loss may occur; causing shifting or loss of teeth.
Missing teeth – When teeth are missing as a result of bone loss, the periodontist can implant prosthetic teeth. These teeth are anchored to the jawbone and restore functionality to the mouth.
Treatments Performed by a Periodontist
The periodontist is able to perform a wide range of treatments to halt the progression of gum disease, replace missing teeth and make the appearance of the smile more aesthetically pleasing.
Here are some of the treatments commonly performed by the periodontist:
Implant placement – When a tooth or several teeth are missing, the periodontist is able to create a natural-looking replacement by anchoring a prosthetic tooth to the jawbone.
Osteoplasty (hard tissue recontouring) – Once periodontitis has been treated, the periodontist can recontour the hard tissue to make the smile both natural-looking and aesthetically pleasing.
Gingivoplasty (soft tissue recontouring) – As gums recede due to periodontitis, the teeth may appear longer; causing a “toothy" smile. The periodontist can remove tissues or straighten the gum line to make the teeth look more even.
Bone grafting – Dental implants can only be positioned if there is sufficient bone to attach the prosthetic tooth to. If bone loss has occurred, bone grafting is an excellent way to add or “grow” bone so that an implant may be properly secured.
Deep pocket cleanings – As gingivitis and periodontitis progress, it becomes more difficult to cleanse the pockets between the soft tissues and the teeth. The periodontist can scale and root plane the teeth (sometimes under local anesthetic) to remove debris and infection-causing bacteria.
Crown lengthening – In order to expose more of the natural tooth, the periodontist can remove some of the surrounding gingival tissue.
The periodontist is a highly skilled dental health professional who is able to diagnose and treat many commonly occurring soft tissue and bone problems in the oral cavity.
When to See a Periodontist
A periodontist is a dentist specializing in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infections and diseases in the soft tissues surrounding the teeth, and the jawbone to which the teeth are anchored. Periodontists have to train an additional three years beyond the four years of regular dental school, and are familiar with the most advanced techniques necessary to treat periodontal disease and place dental implants. Periodontists also perform a vast range of cosmetic procedures to enhance the smile to its fullest extent.
Periodontal disease begins when the toxins found in plaque start to attack the soft or gingival tissue surrounding the teeth. This bacterium embeds itself in the gum and rapidly breeds, causing a bacterial infection. As the infection progresses, it starts to burrow deeper into the tissue causing inflammation or irritation between the teeth and gums. The response of the body is to destroy the infected tissue, which is why the gums appear to recede. The resulting pockets between the teeth deepen and if no treatment is sought, the tissue which makes up the jawbone also recedes causing unstable teeth and tooth loss.
Referrals from General Dentists and Self Referral
There are several ways treatment from a periodontist may be sought. In the course of a regular dental check up, if the general dentist or hygienist finds symptoms of gingivitis or rapidly progressing periodontal disease, a consultation with a periodontist may be recommended. However, a referral is not necessary for a periodontal consultation.
If you experience any of these signs and symptoms, it is important that you schedule an appointment with a periodontist without delay:
Bleeding while eating or brushing – Unexplained bleeding while consuming food or during the course of daily cleaning is one of the most common signs of periodontal infection.
Bad breath – Continued halitosis (bad breath) which persists even when a rigorous oral hygiene program is in place, can be indicative of periodontitis, gingivitis or the beginnings of an infection in the gum tissues.
Loose teeth and gum recession – Longer looking teeth can signal recession of the gums and bone loss due to periodontal disease. As this disease progresses and attacks the jawbone, (the anchor holding the teeth in place) the teeth may become loose or be lost altogether.
Gangrene in the tissues – Gangrene is hard to self diagnose but the general dentist and periodontist will check for its presence in the soft tissues, alveolar bone and periodontal ligament.
Related health conditions – Heart disease, diabetes, osteopenia and osteoporosis are highly correlated with periodontitis and periodontal infections. The bacteria infection can spread through the blood stream and affect other parts of the body.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Before initiating any dental treatment, the periodontist must extensively examine the gums, jawbone and general condition of the teeth. When gingivitis or periodontal disease is officially diagnosed, the periodontist has a number of surgical and non surgical options available to treat the underlying infection, halt the recession of the soft tissue, and restructure or replace teeth which may be missing.
Gingivitis/mild periodontal disease – When the gum pockets exceed 4mm in depth, the periodontist or hygienist may perform scaling and root planing to remove debris from the pockets and allow them to heal. Education and advice will be provided on an effective cleaning regime thereafter.
Moderate periodontal disease – If the gum pockets reach 4-6mm in length, a more extensive scaling and root planing cleaning might be required. This cleaning is usually performed under local anesthetic.
Advanced periodontal disease – Gum pockets in excess of 6-7mm are usually accompanied by bone loss and gum recession. Scaling and root planing will always be performed as the initial nonsurgical treatment. In addition to tose nonsurgical treatments, the periodontist may recommend surgical treatment to reduce pocket depth.
Tooth loss – Where one or several teeth are missing due to periodontal disease, dental implants are an effective option. If the bone is strong enough to provide a suitable anchor for the prosthetic tooth, the implant can be placed. However, if the bone is severely eroded, bone grafts may be performed by the periodontist to provide a suitable anchor for the new tooth/teeth.