Are you wondering what exactly a periodontist is, and what they do? In a nutshell, a periodontist specifically treats the gums, bones, and other structures supporting the teeth. They are different from traditional dentists, who are generalists and address a wide range of dental concerns. Generally, periodontists take charge of more advanced and severe cases that require their specialized knowledge and training. Here is how to determine if you need to visit a periodontist.
What Is a Periodontist?
Periodontists are specialized dentists who focus on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of periodontal or gum disease. Besides gum tissue surrounding the teeth, they also deal with the alveolar (jaw bone), cementum, and periodontal ligament. The last two are supporting structures responsible for anchoring and holding the tooth in place in the jaw bone. Periodontists are also knowledgeable about the placement, maintenance, and repair of dental implants.
To become a periodontal specialist, a dentist must undergo extensive training, which includes obtaining three additional years of education beyond dental school. Plus, they need to take a written and oral exam to be certified by the American Board of Periodontology.
Overall, this thorough process gives periodontists the necessary skill and expertise in performing a wide variety of procedures related to gum diseases and dental implants – be it functional, restorative, or even cosmetic in nature. Some of the most common treatments are scaling and root planing (which entails cleaning the infected surface of the roots) and root surface debridement (which involves the removal of damaged tissues).
What Are the Signs That You Need to See a Periodontist?
Periodontal diseases are primarily seen in adults, with a higher prevalence in men than women. In the United States alone, over 47% of adults aged 30 years and above are suffering from some kind of gum disease. Not everyone needs to visit a periodontist, however. That is because a general dentist is more than capable of treating the early stages of gum disease and other related conditions.
But once the disease progresses and reaches a certain point, a trained specialist may need to assess your periodontal health. In more complex cases, a dentist and a periodontist may work in tandem to effectively manage your condition.
How do you know if your gum disease is serious enough to warrant a trip to a periodontist? There are several signs and symptoms to watch out for. You may experience just one or a combination of two or more. If so, make sure to book an appointment with your local periodontist immediately.
Many people experience bad breath or halitosis. While it can be extremely embarrassing, it is not always a cause for concern. Poor oral hygiene is the most common cause of this condition.
With that said, if you practice good dental care and still suffer from persistent bad breath, it might be an indication that you have cavities or visible holes in your teeth. If left unaddressed, they could cause severe, debilitating pain, interfering with your everyday life. In worse cases, the cavity may also advance to tooth loss or abscess.
Make it a habit to regularly inspect your gums when brushing or flossing your teeth. Do they look red and feel swollen and tender? These are usually the first signs of gingivitis (a common type of periodontal disease), and also one of the top reasons to consult a periodontist.
Healthy gums should appear pale pink, feel firm to the touch, and fit firmly around the teeth. However, they may become inflamed and puffy due to plaque and other tartar-causing bacteria. It is important to act promptly. If left untreated, the inflammation could form pockets around the teeth, increasing the likelihood of infection and eventual tooth loss. By visiting a periodontist, you could prevent gingivitis from progressing into periodontitis, which is a more severe form of gum disease.
Related Article: What Causes Gum Disease and How to Prevent or Treat
Swollen, inflamed gums are often accompanied by unexplained bleeding, especially when you eat, brush, or floss. You may notice blood when you spit or your toothbrush may have a pinkish tint after brushing. Again, this may be an early sign that you have a periodontal infection.
Teeth that are starting to loosen up is a common symptom of periodontitis. It is a serious and long-term gum disease that causes irreversible damage to the tissue and bones surrounding the teeth. Without adequate support, your teeth could move and become loose with the slightest touch. You may also experience the loosening of teeth along with other symptoms, such as bad breath, inflamed gums, bleeding, and receding gums. Prompt action is critical to prevent bone deterioration and teeth loss.
Gum recession – otherwise known as gingival recession – is another major reason to see a periodontist. As always, it starts with the accumulation of plaque and bacteria within the gums and the teeth. If left unremoved, plaque hardens over time and turns into a yellow or brown deposit called tartar (also referred to as dental calculus). Eventually, tartar damages the gum tissues, causing the gum to bleed and recede from the teeth.
As your gum line pushes back further, pockets or gaps may form between the teeth and gums. This makes the teeth more vulnerable to disease-causing bacteria, plaque, and, ultimately, loss.
Gumline recession is a gradual, long-drawn-out process, which means that it is not something most people notice easily. In fact, it could escape your attention for several years, and you may only realize that your gums are pushing back in the later stages of the process.
In this case, another warning sign is if you suddenly experience greater sensitivity to extremely hot or cold foods and beverages. It indicates that most of the pink tissue of the gums have worn away, exposing the delicate root surface of the tooth. Consequently, this results in a sharp burst of pain upon contact with hot or cold temperatures.
Aside from increased sensitivity to temperature, you may also suffer from general discomfort within, around, and beneath the gums. This is different from the usual oral ache, which is usually centered on a specific tooth. If the pain is accompanied by other signs and symptoms in this list, then it is a clear sign that you should see a periodontist. But if you are only experiencing gum pain, you could go to your family dentist first. They will advise you on whether you need to visit a periodontist or not.
What Should You Expect During a Periodontist Visit?
As with any dental visit, make sure you tell your periodontist all about the signs and symptoms you are having. They may also request personal and health information, especially your medical history. This is because age, lifestyle choices, pre-existing conditions, or medications, among other factors, could increase your risk for gum diseases. Hence, you might want to bring any document you deem necessary.
Here is what your periodontist will likely do next:
- Visually inspect your head, neck, and jaw to look for any signs of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
- Examine your mouth, including your gums, teeth, and throat.
- Use a special probe to measure the depth of your gum pockets – or the gap between your gums and teeth. Healthy gums typically have a depth of 3 mm or less.
- Perform X-rays to check for bone loss.
- Perform other necessary tests for a proper diagnosis.
After forming a diagnosis, your periodontist will discuss the underlying causes of your condition and give you an overview of the available treatment options. They will also let you which method they believe is the best one for your specific situation.
Antibiotics and a thorough dental cleaning are often enough to slow down and control the earlier stages of gum disease. But in more severe cases, surgery might be necessary. Your periodontist may also recommend certain lifestyle changes or tweaks in your oral habits to keep your condition from exacerbating. Finally, do not forget to ask any questions or clarifications you might have.
Related Article: Oral Hygiene Is an Important Component of Overall Health
Visit a Periodontist for Healthier Gums
Periodontal disease is a serious gum disease that manifests itself in a wide range of symptoms. This condition typically starts as gingivitis, progressing to more advanced stages if left unmanaged. Unfortunately, the later stages are irreversible and could even result in tooth loss. It might sound hopeless, but do not worry. Gum diseases could be slowed down and even prevented.
When you notice any of the above signs and symptoms, it is imperative to act fast. The first step is to book a visit to a reputable periodontist in your area. After assessing your situation, a periodontist will administer the appropriate treatment or procedure, which will depend on the severity of your condition.
Keep in mind that gum diseases are largely a result of bad dental health. With that said, make sure to practice good oral hygiene and to have regular dental visits to prevent gum diseases from occurring in the first place.