What's the Difference Between a Periodontist and a Dentist?

Hopefully, you visit your dentist every six months for a routine cleaning and checkup (fess up, only half of adults do!). Most of us are familiar with what dentists are and the types of routine oral health services they provide, from teeth cleaning and cavity fillings to some cosmetic dentistry procedures like veneers or whitening. Dentists also perform around 41,000 root canals every day and have provided some 15 million people in the U.S. with crown and bridge replacements for missing teeth.

So where do periodontists come in? A periodontist is a type of specialized dentist, the same way a pediatrician is a specialized kind of doctor. Periodontistry focuses particularly on the soft tissue of the mouth, especially the gums and bones of the mouth. To become a periodontist, you usually need to go through several years of additional training beyond dental school.

Periodontists frequently deal with severe cases of gum disease. You've probably heard of gingivitis, which is a mild form of gum disease. In most cases, gingivitis can be treated by a family dentist with a thorough cleaning and simple treatments, as well as maintaining proper hygiene habits at home.

Sometimes, however, gum disease advances into a more serious condition known as periodontitis. As you might guess by the similarity in the names, periodontitis usually needs to be treated by a periodontist. When gum disease becomes so severe that it starts to affect not only your gums, but the bone structure of the teeth beneath them, your dentist will likely refer you to a specialized periodontist for further treatment.

Treatments for periodontitis can be non-surgical, such as planing or scaling any infected roots, or it may require oral surgery. Dental implants are a common solution to restore degenerative teeth and improve the health of the gums as well.

You might also see a periodontist for deep pocket cleanings, implant replacements, bone grafting, or hard tissue recontouring. Ultimately, your regular dentist will let you know if it's time to schedule an appointment with a periodontist.

While everyone should visit their dentist regularly, fewer people want to make a habit out of visiting the periodontist. These soft tissue specialists, however, are a vital part of the oral health system and help many people achieve a brighter, healthier smile.