What is the Difference Between a Dentist and a Periodontist

August 25, 2021


In addition to seeing your dentist regularly, you will occasionally need to see other dental specialists. Dr. Sharma is always happy to suggest which dental specialist you need to see and remind you what they focus on. However, you can ask more relevant questions if you have a basic understanding of the specialties beforehand. Explore the differences between a dentist and a periodontist.

The Quick Difference

If you want a short answer, then a periodontist is just a specialization of dentistry. It requires additional training, and a periodontist focuses on diagnosing and treating gum disease.

Take a closer look at some of their differences.

Educational and Training Differences

Whether you see a dentist or a periodontist, their education and training began the same way. Both attend a school of dentistry for about four years. They both gain classroom learning and practical experience with supervision.

After completing a dental degree, general dentists need to pass the national exam to start treating patients. On the other hand, periodontists will continue learning and training for two or three more years. They learn even more about periodontal treatment, dental implant placement, surgical procedures, and non-surgical procedures. Then, they take an additional exam to receive their specialization.

Both Dentists and Periodontists Treat Gum Disease

As with most specialties, you will notice an overlap in what dentists and periodontists treat. Specifically, both can treat gum disease and place dental implants.

Periodontists Are More Specialized

The difference is that dentists do not solely focus on your gums. They also look at your teeth and overall oral health. By contrast, periodontists mainly focus on the gums, along with the soft tissues and bones that support your jaw and teeth.

The fact that they have this specialization means that periodontists focus on treating these specific conditions. That expands their experience and means that all their gum-related skills are kept up to date.

Because of that specialization, gum-related treatment is more likely to proceed without complications. It also means that if a complication arises, the periodontist is better equipped to identify and resolve the issue. On top of that, treatment with a periodontist may be more efficient and more comfortable.

When Dentists May Refer You to a Periodontist

As mentioned, dentists can offer many of the treatments that periodontists do. Even so, they commonly recommend that you see a periodontist in certain situations. The most obvious situation will be if they feel you need a treatment that they do not offer, but a periodontist does.

Dentists will also recommend patients with more severe oral health cases to periodontists. This can be necessary if the case is beyond their expertise or if they simply feel that a periodontist would find it easier to handle.

Sometimes, your dentist may also refer you to a periodontist even if they could offer you a treatment without a problem. The most common reason for this would be to get an additional trusted opinion.

Which Doctor to See for Gum Disease

If you have early signs of gum disease, seeing your dentist will likely be enough. If, however, your symptoms are more serious, your dentist may refer you to a periodontist. Severe gum disease will almost always require treatment by a periodontist. In that case, your periodontist can work together with your general dentist to provide treatment.

Some common indications of gum disease include persistent bad breath, gums pulling away from your teeth, your teeth looking longer, receding gums, loose teeth, painful chewing, bleeding gums when you floss or brush, or gums that are red, tender, or inflamed.

Common Treatments Offered By General Dentists and Periodontists

You are likely already familiar with the reasons you see your general dentist. You visit them for cleanings, filling cavities, placing crowns, getting X-rays, getting dentures, teeth whitening, tooth extraction, root canals, and more.

The most common reason to see a periodontist is to diagnose and treat gum disease. Treatment options include medication, scaling and root planning, periodontal therapy, periodontal surgery, and non-surgical treatment. You may also see a periodontist for a wisdom tooth extraction or dental implant.

Periodontists offer root surface debridement, esthetic gum procedures like gum lifting, and soft tissue grafting (known as gum grafting). They can also handle regenerative bone grafting by implants and teeth, placing dental implants, and pocket reduction or flap surgery. Other services offered include regenerative procedures that reverse the damage of gum disease and IV sedation.

The Relationship Between Dentists and Periodontists

When your dentist refers you to a periodontist, the two professionals will work together to some degree. Your periodontist will update your dentist on your treatments and progress. Your dentist will let your periodontist know about any relevant conditions in your mouth in addition to the main issue.

Remember that your general dentist is like a primary care provider for your mouth. Dentists like Dr. Sharma must pay attention to your overall oral health and coordinate treatments. By communicating with your periodontists in Lincoln Square, your general dentists can ensure that they know your progress. This also lets them determine if you need additional treatments either from them or from another specialist.

It is also worth noting that you will see your dentist at least twice a year throughout your life. By contrast, you may not ever need to see a periodontist. Patients typically visit periodontists on an as-needed basis. Depending on your gum disease, it is likely that your periodontist will want to see you regularly until the issues are under control. After that, they may not see you again unless your dentist recommends it.

The Bottom Line

Periodontists practice a specialty of general dentistry that requires an extra two or three years of training. Your general dentist treats your oral health overall. By contrast, periodontists specialize in gum disease and soft tissue problems.

Your dentist is likely to treat you if you have mild gum disease. However, if it is a moderate to severe case, your dentist will likely refer you to a periodontist. They may also refer patients to periodontists in other situations when it is in their best interest to seek another opinion.



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