Sometimes the medical referral system can be really confusing. That is doubly true for dentistry. Between an endodontist, oral surgeon, prosthodontist, periodontist; sometimes it can be mystifying as to who exactly a patient is being sent to. While an oral surgeon or endodontist (‘root canal specialist’) may be better understood, sometimes patients wonder what exactly a periodontist does.
Periodontology is a word that most people don’t hear very often. By definition, this type of dentist specializes in gum disease and focuses on giving patients a healthy mouth. Many patients focus on cavities, broken teeth, or the esthetics of their smile. They want their teeth fixed, but may not understand that the tissue surrounding their teeth can have an active infection. As the saying goes, “You wouldn’t put a new roof on a house with a bad foundation.”
Once a year during hygiene appointments, our hygienists will complete a full ‘periodontal charting’. The hygienists measure the depth of the gap between teeth and gums in millimeters; as well as recording recession, tooth mobility, and the amount of bleeding. Lower pocket depths are generally better – the deeper pockets get, the harder they are to clean. Deep pockets allow bad types of bacteria to multiply and ultimately cause further destruction to the tissue and bone.
The first line of defense against gum disease is usually scaling and root planing, otherwise known as a ‘deep cleaning’. Hygienists perform this procedure under local anesthetic, to ensure that teeth can be properly cleaned without the patient feeling any discomfort. However, if the disease has extended past the point of a deep cleaning, many times referral to a periodontist is required. Periodontists perform a number of procedures that focus on bringing the gum tissue back to a healthy state and eliminating the bacterial infection in the mouth.
Another procedure that many periodontists specialize in is placing dental implants. With such extensive knowledge of tissue and underlying bone, this is a procedure made for periodontists. Many periodontists perform atraumatic extractions, followed by bone grafting, which hopefully provides the foundation necessary for a successful dental implant. Especially when implants are placed in the smiling esthetic zone, one of the biggest factors is how the tissue heals around the implant and contours around the final tooth restoration.
Ultimately, a referral to a periodontist is done with the goal of improving a patient’s overall oral health. While periodontists perform some advanced procedures that a general dentist does not, they will work hand in hand with that dentist to make the best treatment plan for the patient. Any time a patient has any questions or concerns about a referral they receive; they should talk to their dentist and fully understand the goals for their treatment.