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While your general dentist might be great when it comes to filling cavities and making sure your teeth are healthy, if you should develop gum disease, or periodontal disease, it’s likely that they will refer you to a periodontist. Periodontists specialize in periodontics, a branch that focuses on the prevention and treatment of gum disease.

Gum disease is very common in the United States. A study published in the Journal of Periodontology confirms that 46 percent of people over the age of 30 in the U.S. have periodontitis (gum disease). While you can reduce your risk for gum disease by brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing and seeing your dentist, there might come a time when you need to schedule a visit with a periodontist and learn more about periodontics.

Who Are Periodontists?

As the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) points out, periodontists are dentists who complete three additional years of schooling after dental school. Periodontists focus on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of gum diseases. They also can provide patients with dental implants.

What Does a Periodontist Do?

While a general dentist might be able to treat a mild cause of gum disease, like gingivitis, during a routine visit, if you have a more severe or advanced form of the disease, it’s likely you’ll want to see a periodontist. Some periodontists specialize in particularly advanced forms of the disease.

What your periodontist will do to treat gum disease depends in large part on the severity of the disease. Mild cases of gum disease might only require a deep cleaning or a treatment known as scaling and root planing. More severe cases might require surgery to replace lost gum tissue or treatments to reduce the size of pockets between the teeth and gums. In the most severe cases, your periodontist might remove very damaged or decayed teeth and replace them with dental implants.

Dental implants aren’t the same thing as dentures or other types of replacement teeth. An implant becomes a part of your mouth and looks and feels like a natural tooth. You’ll be able to clean the implant just like you would your natural teeth. When a periodontist places a dental implant, they screw and secure a titanium into the bone that supports the teeth and then securely attach a crown to the top of the implant abutment.

How a Periodontist Helps Prevent Gum Disease

One aspect of periodontics that doesn’t get as much attention as the treatment of gum disease is the prevention of gum disease. A periodontist shouldn’t just be there to treat instances of periodontal disease. They can also help you avoid the disease in the first place.

The AAP formulated the Comprehensive Periodontal Exam, an annual examination that aims to detect any signs of gum disease early. The exam also gives dentists a good overview of how healthy a patient’s mouth is. During the exam, a periodontist will evaluate your teeth, gums, plaque, bone structure, bite and any risk factors you might have, such as smoking or a family history of gum disease.

After the exam, they might make recommendations to protect your teeth and gums. For example, your dentist might recommend that you brush more frequently or that you swish with a mouthwash like Colgate Total Mouthwash for Gum Health. It provides advanced gum protection for 45 percent stronger, healthier gums.

What to Look for in a Periodontist

If your general dentist recommends seeing a periodontist, odds are they will recommend someone to you. If not, it helps to know what to look for in a dental specialist. Look for someone who has the appropriate education and specialized training in periodontics. It’s also a good idea to choose a dentist who has years of experience, especially experience performing the type of treatment you’re likely to need.

Don’t forget about logistics when picking a periodontist. Look for a dental specialist whose office is open during hours that work with your schedule. If you are going to use insurance, it helps to find a doctor who is part of your dental insurance network.