A periodontist is a dental specialist who focuses on treating periodontal (gum) disease. They will have first qualified as a general dentist before undergoing a minimum of three years full-time training in periodontics. During this time they will develop an advanced understanding of the gum, bone and soft tissues that surround your teeth.
As well as preventing, diagnosing and treating periodontal disease, periodontists are also trained to replace missing teeth using dental implants.
What is periodontal disease?
The term periodontal disease is used to describe a range of different diseases that affect your gum, bone and soft tissues. These supporting structures are just as important as your teeth. Without treatment, periodontal disease will eventually lead to the loosening of your teeth and ultimately tooth loss.
What are the warning signs of gum disease?
Unfortunately periodontal or gum disease doesn’t always have obvious symptoms. However, early signs can include bleeding when you brush or floss your teeth. You may also notice that your gums are slightly red and puffy, particularly along the gum line. And in some cases your gums might recede exposing the roots of your teeth. More advanced signs of periodontal disease can include infections, abscesses and loose teeth.
Regular dental check-ups are really important for spotting the signs of gum disease, but if you experience any problems in between your appointments get in touch with your dentist as soon as you can. The term ‘prevention is better than cure’ is particularly apt where gum disease is concerned.
How can a periodontist treat gum disease?
The best treatment for gum disease depends on how advanced the condition is and the underlying problem. One of the most common causes of gum disease is a build up of plaque. In this instance, your periodontist will help you to improve your oral hygiene routine, and encourage you to see your dentist and hygienist for regular appointments.
In some cases they may recommend root planning, which involves cleaning underneath your gums to reach the bacteria surrounding your roots. Some of the damaged tissue may also need to be removed in a procedure known as root debridement.
For more advanced cases periodontal surgery may be required. Sometimes, and usually as a last resort, a tooth will need to be removed. In this eventuality, you’ll be made fully aware of the different replacement options available to you, including dental bridges and implants. Nowadays the function and appearance of your smile shouldn’t need to suffer as a result of a missing tooth.
Can your dentist treat gum disease?
You may be wondering whether you need to see a periodontist or if your dentist can treat the early stages of gum disease. Usually your dentist will be the natural first port of call for any dental problem. They will assess your situation and decide whether your case is advanced enough to justify a referral to a specialist.
General dentists are well equipped to treat the early stages of gum disease, so they may recommend some less invasive treatments such as improved cleaning before resorting to a referral.
How to prevent gum disease at home
You can minimise your risk of gum disease (not to mention tooth decay) by keeping your teeth clean and healthy. Brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day and floss once a day to avoid a build up of plaque. Don’t forget to see your dentist for regular check-ups and your hygienist as required for a more thorough clean.
Smoking can also increase your risk of gum disease, speed up its advancement AND affect your gum’s ability to heal.
For help and advice on quitting smoking, visit nhs.co.uk/smokefree.