Periodontists are dental specialists who focus on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the varying stages of gum disease. They’re well qualified to do this because they undergo at least three years of further training after four years of dental school. Periodontal experts also have in-depth knowledge of how gum issues can damage general health. The most common cause of periodontal disease is inadequate brushing and flossing, which can lead to a build-up of bacteria-ridden plaque and tartar (hardened, calcified plaque) on the teeth and gum line.
Diagnosing Gum Disease
The first stage of periodontitis (gum disease) is gingivitis (gum inflammation). Left to its own devices, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis and advanced periodontitis – a chronic condition that can lead to loss of teeth and other serious issues. The early days of gingivitis are often pain-free, so you may not realize there’s a problem. Patients with gum issues who see a general dentist will be referred to a periodontist if the problem is potentially severe.
The periodontist will review your dental and general medical history to determine whether you are being treated for a medical condition that may affect periodontal treatment, such as heart disease or diabetes. The periodontist will then measure the depth of your periodontal pockets (space between gums and teeth). They will also assess the function of your bite and look for teeth that have become loose. X-rays can also be taken to gauge the condition of the bone structure beneath the gum line.
Treating Gum Disease
The first stage of periodontal treatment typically entails deep cleaning by scaling and root planing. Scaling gets rid of accumulations of plaque and tartar on and below the gum line. Root planing smooths rough areas on a tooth to eliminate bacteria and help the gums reattach to it.
After this treatment, the depth of the pockets around your teeth will be monitored to determine whether further treatment is required. If your periodontal disease has become advanced, surgery may be needed to restore your oral health by reshaping and repositioning bones and gum tissue that support your teeth.
Surgical periodontal procedures include:
Gingival flap surgery. This separates the teeth and gum tissue and folds back the gum in the form of a flap. This enables the removal of infected tissue from the tooth roots and bone supporting the teeth.
Osseous surgery. Also known as gingivectomy, this procedure lessens the depth of periodontal pockets, strengthens the gums and helps to prevent future build-ups of bacteria.
Laser surgery. Procedures like LANAP (Laser-Assisted New Attachment Procedure) can be used to restore oral health in cases of severe periodontitis.
Dental implants. Teeth lost through gum disease can be replaced with implants that are inserted into the jaw bone to create an artificial tooth root on which to mount a denture, crown or bridge.
Preventing Gum Disease
If your gums are healthy, good oral hygiene at home combined with regular professional cleanings by your general dentist or dental hygienist should be sufficient to keep them in good condition. However, if you’ve been treated for gum disease, your periodontist will supervise a program of periodontal maintenance to help keep the problem from recurring.