A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in gum disease and degeneration. The periodontist is considered to be a specialist because he or she trains for an additional two to three years after completing dental school, specifically in the recognition and treatment of diseases of the gum. Since it’s common for gum disease to occur, especially as we age, many people are referred to a periodontist if gum disease is detected.
About 75% of tooth loss is due to periodontal disease, formations of bacterial plaque that infect and begin to cause gum deterioration, loose teeth, receding gums, red or swollen gums, frequent bleeding of the gums, and spaces between the teeth. During normal check-ups with a family dentist, periodontal disease will usually be noticed. If you notice these symptoms in between dental check-ups, you can usually see your dentist and ask for a referral to a periodontist.
If periodontal disease has been caught early, there are many non-surgical ways to treat it. Most commonly a periodontist can employ dental scaling and root-planing during early onset periodontal disease. This involves removing plaque from roots of teeth, and smoothing the roots of the tooth to prevent additional growth of bacteria.
When periodontal disease is more advanced, the periodontist is trained in several surgical techniques, which can help restore the teeth. These include bone grafting to replace lost bone due to severe bacterial infection, crown lengthening, which can help restructure a tooth so that it better supports a crown, and tooth and gum contouring, which can help reshape teeth and gums affected by gum disease.
The periodontist is also skilled in performing dental implants, the new standard when a tooth is lost. In this procedure, a replacement for a lost tooth is surgically attached to the jaw and topped with a crown. Though this procedure is more expensive than bridges or false teeth, it tends to last longer and provide more comfort. There’s also no need to use adhesives since the tooth is permanently fixed in the mouth.
Since the periodontist is a specialist, his or her services may not always be covered by dental insurance to the same degree that more standard procedures are covered. In fact, some periodontal services are simply not covered, and some periodontists will not accept payments over time. Yet many a periodontist recognizes that gum disease is best addressed as early as possible, and would rather take payments from a patient so that he or she can be treated sooner. If you are concerned about cost, you may want to approach a few periodontists in your community to discuss payment options.