How to Choose a Periodontist

If your dentist has recommended that you see a periodontist, ask them for a referral. Many general dentists work frequently with specialists like periodontists, and your dentist probably knows a periodontist they’d happily recommend. If you’re researching periodontists independently, or even if you’d simply like more information about a recommended periodontist, make a list of research questions, and be sure to address your specific preferences and concerns in your list. These questions will help you evaluate the qualifications of each periodontist while prioritizing the issues or concerns that are most important to you; there is no question too simple or complex to ask a periodontist. Experienced periodontists might be expected to have completed more continuing education courses, but you can ask specific questions about their most recent recertifications, which continuing education courses they’ve learned from, and how these experiences have affected their practices.


If you have a specific clinical condition, ask if the periodontist has experience with this particular issue and its treatments. If you’re anxious about seeing a periodontist, ask for a detailed explanation of your intended treatment plan, and learn whether there are other options available to you. If budget is a particular concern for you, ask about estimated costs and make sure to research your own insurance coverage while you devise your treatment plan. If you don’t have dental insurance, ask the periodontist’s office staff about financing plans. If you’re anxious about seeing a periodontist and this information doesn’t help alleviate your anxiety, ask the periodontist what medication options might be offered for pain management during periodontal procedures and after.


The periodontium is the assembly of vital tissues that keep the teeth healthily in place in the mouth. These tissues include the alveolar bone in the jaw socket where each tooth lives, the layer of cementum that encloses the roots of the teeth, the fibrous ligaments that secure the teeth into their sockets,and the gum tissue that surrounds and protects the whole apparatus. Periodontists specialize in treating diseases in these tissues, diagnosing periodontal conditions and providing treatment that is intended to preserve as much of the healthy oral tissue as possible. Often, this means treating periodontal disease with the goal of saving the natural teeth and discouraging reinfection. When the teeth are already missing or are too infected to be saved, periodontists can also provide tissue regeneration treatments like bone grafts that help restore the integrity of the bone to prepare it for dental implants.


General dentists perform preliminary periodontal examinations during routine checkups, and these assessments can be instrumental in providing early treatment, when periodontal disease has affected only the gingival tissues and can therefore be reversed with a thorough cleaning and improved oral hygiene. When periodontal disease has advanced in severity, however, and has begun to infect the periodontal ligaments and compromise the bone, a periodontist needs to take over treatment until the periodontium is restored to health. In certain populations, there is a higher risk of periodontal disease, and symptoms might progress more rapidly; if you smoke, or if you have diabetes, heart disease, or osteoporosis, make sure to see your dentist regularly for routine periodontal examinations, and don’t be afraid to ask your periodontist for recommendations or referrals if you’re trying to curtail harmful habits like smoking. If you have a specific condition that might threaten your periodontal health, feel free to ask questions pertaining to this as you’re researching possible periodontists. Many periodontists undergo continued training in specific sub-areas of the specialization, and it’s always worth it to ask.


In order to become a periodontist, a dentist must first complete their dental degree, after graduating from an undergraduate institution. Upon completion of this dental degree, the title of DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or DMD (Doctor of Medical Dentistry) is conferred. To earn additional licensure, the dentist will complete an additional three years of clinical training and residency in an accredited periodontology residency program. After completing this additional training, the periodontal specialist can seek board certification with the American Board of Periodontology, completing comprehensive evaluations that assess understanding of all the phases of periodontal disease and their respective treatments. These evaluations include required clinical reports of specific procedures performed by the periodontal candidate during residency. To maintain board certification, periodontists are evaluated on completed continuing education requirements and demonstrated facility with innovations in periodontics, completing the recertification process every six years.


Periodontists work in both the private and public sectors, in hospitals and dental schools, both public and private, and they also often work in government organizations and businesses. Periodontists can focus their careers on specific areas of concern, researching treatment innovations, focusing their practice on the relationship between certain systemic diseases and periodontal disease, or any one of multiple topics in between. When you ask prospective periodontists your questions in your initial consultation, make sure you enjoy the way they communicate about these professional interests and that they explain in a way that you understand. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, and pay attention to body language and demeanor, making sure you feel comfortable doing so. If you have specific communication criteria, like accommodations for communication disabilities or options for language translation, ask these questions as you gather information as well.


Once you’ve chosen a periodontist, in your first examination, you’ll be asked to review your comprehensive medical and dental history, so communication and comfort is especially important as you and your periodontist are getting to know each other. Certain medications can have a negative effect on the oral health, and some medical conditions or habits increase the risk of periodontal disease; these should be included in the evaluation, and honesty and transparency are imperative. Your periodontist will examine your teeth and gums, your mouth, your throat and your neck, and your jaw joints, taking x-rays to determine the amount and locations of bone loss. Following this evaluation, you and your periodontist will discuss your treatment options, developing a plan that is tailored to your needs and preferences. Routine visits are usually a part of an overall treatment plan for periodontal disease, and a feeling of rapport between you and your dentist can greatly enhance your comfort with your visits with your periodontist and help treatment go more smoothly. Many periodontal treatments involve non-surgical procedures that are intended to deep clean the periodontium and remove bacterial plaque and tartar from the deeper surfaces of the teeth, preparing these surfaces to resist future infection by retexturizing them and treating them with antibiotics. When surgical treatments are required, as in cases of more advanced periodontal disease, periodontists draw from a vast selection of procedures that help reduce damage while repairing, replenishing, and restoring the periodontal tissues to health.


While it may feel daunting at times to choose a periodontist, periodontal disease that is left untreated can lead to the loss of the natural teeth and the gradual destruction of the bone tissue in the jaw. If you’re missing one or more of your natural teeth, a periodontist can address this situation as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Periodontists can help design dental implant therapies, advising on implant placement and performing tissue regeneration procedures like bone grafts to help restore the periodontium to necessary wholeness before dental implant surgery. Periodontists also routinely perform cosmetic surgery procedures like sculpting the gum tissue, which can repair an excessively gummy smile and reshape the gum line, or tissue grafting, which relies on tissue extracted from another area of the mouth to restore areas where gum tissue has been lost to disease.

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