What Is a Periodontist And What Do They Do?
A periodontist is a dental specialist who diagnoses and treats issues relating primarily to the gums and other tissues in the mouth. There are various forms and severity of gum disease. Gingivitis, the most common form of gum disease, is estimated to affect nearly half of the U.S. adult population, with some experts suggesting an even greater number. A more severe form of gum disease, known as periodontitis, is essentially an advance stage of gingivitis, one that affects roughly 25% of adults. The gums are a vital component of oral anatomy, as they are the foundation of healthy teeth. Needles to say, the field of periodontology is more relevant than ever before.
In order to become a periodontist, dental school graduates must complete an additional three years of training, during which time they learn numerous techniques for treating gum disease. One common and longstanding procedure is known as scaling and root planing. Different from a standard tooth cleaning, scaling and root planing consists of removing hard tartar and calculus from the teeth both above and below the gum line. Once this is complete, the teeth are “planed,” or smoothed, so that the surrounding gums can reattach to the teeth, preventing further infection.
For hundreds of thousands of patients, gum disease progresses to the point that more advanced treatment is necessary. The receding of gums is one of the tell-tale signs of gum disease. To replace lost gum tissue, a periodontist may perform a free gingival graft. This procedure involves removing a thin strip of tissue either from the upper portion of the gums or the roof of the mouth. The strip is then attached and sutured to a portion of the teeth that have been exposed due to gum recession. Amazingly, this implanted tissue seamlessly integrates and grows normally once it is in place. This type of procedure has a very strong prognosis in treating advanced gum disease.
Increasingly, many gum specialists are placing dental implants. These prosthetic teeth are a rapidly emerging alternative to dentures, as they are much more strong and effective. Due to the relatively complicated procedure of placing dental implants, and the considerations required for the surrounding bone and tissue, dentists trained in gingival physiology are highly qualified to place implants. Some candidates for dental implants may first require a bone graft or a free gingival graft in order to provide ample substrate for anchoring the implant. These highly trained specialists are equally capable of performing both.
Due to the surgical nature of the work performed by a periodontist, their fees can be significant. Free gingival grafts and bone grafts often cost upwards of several thousand dollars. Similarly, dental implants can cost $3,000 per tooth or more, depending on the complexity of the case. Scaling and root planing is more affordable, usually around $1,000 for the entire mouth, although in rural areas this figure may be much less. The good news is that many insurance plans offer significant coverage for these treatments, especially scaling and root planing, since these procedures are essential for oral health. However, keep in mind that dental implants are rarely covered by insurance. If your gums are suffering, do not fear. A gum specialist can have your gums pink and healthy once again with a few simple procedures.