Periodontist: Your Gum Specialist

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What is a periodontist?

A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases and conditions affecting the supporting structures of the teeth, including the gums and bone. Left untreated, gum disease (periodontal disease) can cause serious infection and even tooth loss. The overall goal of periodontists is to prevent gum disease and tooth loss.

A periodontist typically: 

  • Evaluates the patient's dental and medical history and performs an oral and dental exam

  • Educates patients about gum disease and complications of gum disease, good oral hygiene, and oral disease prevention

  • Orders and interprets laboratory and imaging tests such as X-rays

  • Prescribes medications including antibiotics and pain medications

  • Diagnoses gum diseases and conditions including gingivitis and gum recession

  • Treats various gum diseases and conditions using nonsurgical and surgical techniques

  • Performs gum surgery, dental implant placement, and cosmetic periodontal procedures

  • Works closely with other dental specialists to ensure optimal care

A periodontist may also be known by the following terms: dentist, gum doctor, and gum specialist.

Who should see a periodontist?

A general dentist or specialty dentist often refers patients to a periodontist for treatment of periodontal disease. In addition, if you are unhappy with the appearance of your gums, you may want to talk with a periodontist about cosmetic treatments. You may also consider seeing a periodontist if you have a medical condition, such as diabetes, that increases the risk of periodontal disease and tooth loss.

When should you see a periodontist?

Consider seeking care from an experienced periodontist as recommended by your general dentist or other healthcare provider, or if you have any of the following symptoms or conditions:

  • Asymmetrical gum line or teeth that look unusually short or long

  • Bad breath or dry mouth

  • Gums that are pulling away from the top of a tooth, exposing the tooth root (receding gums)

  • Loose permanent tooth or teeth

  • Misaligned bite or poorly fitting partial dentures

  • Mouth sores

  • Pain with chewing

  • Pus between your teeth and gums

  • Red, swollen, or tender gums, or gums that bleed when you brush and floss your teeth

  • Tooth sensitivity to hot and cold liquids or foods

What conditions and diseases does a periodontist treat?

A periodontist treats a variety of conditions and diseases including:  

  • Bruxism, also known as teeth grinding and clenching

  • Cosmetic conditions including excessive, prominent gums or uneven gums

  • Gum disease including gingivitis, periodontitis, gum recession, dental pockets, and necrotizing periodontal disease

  • Halitosis (bad breath) related to gum disease

  • Tooth conditions including tooth loss or separating teeth

What tests does a periodontist perform or order?

A periodontist orders or performs diagnostic tests including:

  • Imaging studies including bitewing X-rays, panoramic X-rays of the teeth and jaws, and computed tomography (CT) scans

  • Oral health exam including your dental and medical history and a periodontal disease risk assessment

What procedures and treatments does a periodontist perform or order?

Periodontists perform various procedures and treatments including: 

  • Cosmetic treatments including gum contouring, also known as gum reshaping or tissue sculpting, and ridge augmentation

  • Dental hygiene and preventive care including cleanings, fluoride treatments, dental scaling, and education on oral hygiene and gum disease prevention

  • Gum recession surgery including pocket depth reduction, gum regeneration, and soft and hard tissue grafts

  • Gum recession treatments including tooth scaling and root planing to clean the teeth and exposed root surfaces, as well as antibiotic irrigation therapy

  • Medications including oral antibiotics, gels, and prescription mouthwash to treat bacterial infections

  • Teeth grinding and clenching treatments including providing and maintaining dental night guards

  • Tooth loss treatments including dental implants

Periodontist training and certification

Education, training, experience and certification are key elements in establishing a periodontist's level of competence. A periodontist has:

  • Completed three or more years of undergraduate education

  • Graduated with a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree from a four-year, dental school accredited by the American Dental Association. DDS and DMD are equivalent degrees and involve the same level of education.

  • Completed an accredited three-year training program in periodontology

  • Completed the requirements for state licensure

Periodontists can choose to earn board certification from the American Board of Periodontology. Certification recognizes that a periodontist has extensive knowledge in comprehensive periodontal care. A board-certified periodontist has completed all the educational and training requirements listed above as well as passed written and oral examinations covering all phases of periodontal disease and its treatment.

To maintain certification, a periodontist must complete a self-assessment program and continuing education credit every six years.

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  1. Gum Disease Risk Factors. American Academy of Periodontology.  
  2. Gum contouring -- for the 'gummy smile. Cosmetic Dentistry Guide.  

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2017 Nov 17
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