When to Visit a General Dentist Vs. A Periodontist
Gum disease affects 50 percent of people in the U.S. after they reach the age of 30 and is the chief cause of tooth loss among adults. If you suspect you have problems with your gums, you may be wondering whether you should visit a general dentist or a periodontist.
The main difference between a general dentist and a periodontal specialist lies in the level of training and expertise in treating gum disorders. After dental school, a periodontist gains an in-depth understanding of gum disease through extra education, with a focus on the link between oral health and general well being.
A general dentist may be able to treat relatively mild gum issues but more severe cases will need the attention of a periodontal specialist to restore and maintain your oral health.
What Does a General Dentist Do?
A general dentist is your primary oral healthcare provider and the type of dentist you will see most often. They routinely perform treatments such as fillings, crowns, and extractions.
You should visit your general dentist every six months for a check-up and professional cleaning to ensure your oral health is on track.
Good general dentists know their limitations and when to refer a patient for specialist treatment. They may advise you in general on which type of specialist you need – such as a periodontist – or recommend a specific specialist. However, you don’t need a referral to visit a periodontal specialist.
What Does a Periodontist Do?
Periodontists specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of gum disease (periodontitis). Compared with general dentists, periodontal specialists have extensive training in these areas – at least three years of further education.
Periodontists typically treat more complex cases of gum disease, working in partnership with your general dentist. Periodontal specialists keep up to date with the latest diagnostic and treatment techniques for gum disease, and provide a wide range of non-surgical and surgical treatments.
Non-surgical periodontal treatments include:
- Antibiotic medication to halt the progress of the infection.
- Scaling and root planing to remove plaque and tartar.
Surgical periodontal procedures include:
- Pocket depth reduction (gingival flap surgery) to eliminate underlying infection.
- Soft tissue grafts in cases of receding gums.
- Bone grafts to promote regrowth.
When to Visit a General Dentist
General dentists treat a wider variety of oral health problems than periodontists, providing services such as:
- Cavity repairs.
- Tooth extraction.
- Custom mouthguards.
- Cosmetic procedures such as veneers and teeth whitening.
General dentists also offer preventative measures including:
- Routine exams.
- Professional dental cleanings.
- Nutrition counseling.
When to Visit a Periodontist
Gum disease2 is typically caused by a build-up of bacteria, plaque, and tartar. This produces an infection that can attack the soft and hard tissue that supports your teeth. Periodontics – taking care of gums and the bone supporting teeth – is one of nine specialties recognized by the American Dental Association (ADA).
It’s advisable to visit a periodontist as soon as possible if you have any of these symptoms:
- Bleeding gums. If your gums bleed during brushing and flossing, this is one of the first – and most common – symptoms of gum disease.
- Persistent bad breath (halitosis). Bacterial toxins can result in bad breath or a sour taste even after brushing your teeth.
- Receding gums. Gum recession – also known as gingival recession – causes pockets between your teeth and gum line that expose tooth roots, which may become sensitive to temperature changes.
- Loose teeth or tooth loss. This occurs as gum disease attacks the soft tissue and bone supporting your teeth.
- Discomfort when eating. If the area around a tooth root is infected, the pressure of biting down can be painful.
You may find the need to visit a periodontist greater if your diet or oral hygiene is poor or if you smoke. Treatments for other medical issues – including cancer, diabetes, and AIDS – can also increase the likelihood of gum disease.
Periodontists are keenly aware of how gum disease can damage general health. Infection from periodontitis can spread to other areas of your body, including vital organs.
The American Academy of Periodontology1 (AAP) says people with moderate to severe gum disease can benefit from periodontists’ greater understanding of the mouth-body connection, coupled with a higher level of expertise in periodontal treatments.
Periodontists are Dental Implant Specialists
As well as treating gum disease, periodontists are also expert in the placement, maintenance, and repair of dental implants3. A dental implant is a titanium post that’s inserted into the jaw bone to provide an anchor for an artificial tooth.
General dentists may offer implant services but they’re not implant specialists. Fitting dental implants is a surgical procedure, and the Institute for Dental Implant Awareness (IDIA) stresses the importance of finding a qualified dental surgical specialist to carry out this increasingly popular tooth-replacement treatment.
The only surgeons recognized by the American Dental Association are jaw and face surgeons, oral surgeons and periodontists. The extra education that periodontists get includes advanced training on dental implants.
An experienced implant specialist will have gained a high level of expertise in the surgical replacement of missing teeth, and be able to deal with any potential complications.
Patients who want dental implants but lack sufficient quality bone in the jaw to hold them securely can particularly benefit from treatment by a periodontist, who can rebuild bone with a grafting procedure.
Why Choose a Periodontal Specialist?
A consultation with a periodontist will entail a thorough evaluation of your oral and overall health. Periodontal assessments nowadays typically take advantage of the latest diagnostic dental technology like 3D imaging, which also provides a more comfortable experience for the patient.
Some general dentists can manage mild cases of gum disease but if you’re diagnosed with moderate or severe periodontitis, a periodontal specialist will give you the best chance of effective treatment, and they can work in conjunction with your general dentist to streamline your oral healthcare.
If you’re considering getting dental implants, it’s worth bearing in mind that this treatment has the highest success rate of any implant surgery, when performed by periodontists.