A periodontist is a dentist who is a specialist in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases and deformities of the gums, as well as the placement of dental implants. Conditions that periodontists treat include: periodontitis (a.k.a. gum disease, pyorrhea), gingivitis, gum recessions, and “gummy” smiles, among others. Periodontists in general treat the more severe periodontal diseases, offering a wide range of non-surgical and surgical procedures to restore health, function and esthetics. Periodontists also receive extensive training in the treatment of medical disorders affecting the mouth (stomatology) and are considered experts in the surgical placement and long-term maintenance of dental implants.

What Education Does a Periodontist Have?

In order to become a specialist in Periodontics, a periodontist must have completed three years of specialty education following completion of dental school. Periodontal residency programs teach residents advanced treatment of the gums, oral medicine, and the placement of dental implants in a focused, immersive environment. Only a doctor who has satisfactorily completed this rigorous training can call himself or herself a periodontist and be recognized as a specialist in Periodontology.

When Should You See a Periodontist?

Usually, it is your general or family dentist who will determine that you need the care of a periodontist and refer you to the specialist of their choice. However, you should be aware of common signs of gum problems as well as other conditions that a periodontist can treat for you:

  1. If you have any of the common signs of periodontal disease, such as bad breath, bleeding when you brush or floss, a bad taste in your mouth, or loose teeth.
  2. If you have missing teeth and you would like to find out if dental implants are appropriate for you. They can be a long-lasting, esthetic alternative to partials or bridges.
  3. If you are not happy with your smile and think that the condition or appearance of your gums may be a significant reason for that (i.e. gum recession or a “gummy” smile).
  4. If periodontal treatment has been recommended for you but you would like to have a second opinion by a specialist.

What Treatment Does a Periodontist Perform?

As noted above, periodontists treat many conditions. A periodontist will first perform a very thorough review of your medical history and examine your teeth, gums, and oral structures to determine what treatment is necessary and appropriate.

If diagnosed with periodontitis (a.k.a. periodontal disease, gum disease, pyorrhea), the treatment will focus on removing the harmful plaque and tartar that is putting the health of your gums and the longevity of your teeth in danger. In some instances, a simple cleaning and instructions on how to clean your teeth will be all that is necessary. If there has been destruction of the tissues that support your teeth and pockets have formed, then treatments that are more extensive may be necessary. These may include non-surgical treatments such as scaling and root planing (a.k.a. “deep” cleanings; smoothing of the root surfaces) or occlusal adjustments (correcting your bite).

If the bone supporting the teeth has been damaged, surgical treatment may be recommended. Surgery can take the form of a minor reshaping of the supporting bone or regeneration of lost bone. The specialty of Periodontics increasingly treats bone loss by the regeneration (re-growth) of the lost tissues and supporting bone. In most cases, there are several possible ways to treat the various types of periodontal disease. A Periodontist is trained in the available methods for treating damage to the gums and can help you make a decision about what is the best treatment for you.

What is Cosmetic Gum Surgery (Oral Plastic Surgery)?

Sometimes there are defects or imperfections in the gums that keep patients from having the smile they always wanted. These include: an uneven gum line due to “short” teeth or receded gums; excessive gingival display (often referred to as a “gummy” smile); lost or collapsed gums due to extracted or missing teeth, “black holes” between teeth, bridges, or implants; and sensitive teeth due to gum recession. Cosmetic gum surgery techniques (a.k.a. Oral Plastic Surgery) can help correct these imperfections – the results can often be dramatic as shown by the photos below. Click on the thumbnails to view a larger image.

Surgery by: Dr. Eduardo R. Lorenzana, San Antonio, TX

The Southwest Society of Periodontists presents cutting-edge continuing dental education so that its members are familiar with the latest methods available for the treatment of periodontal disease, cosmetic gum surgery, and dental implants. If you have any questions regarding these conditions and/or treatment, please call one of our members to arrange a consultation appointment.


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