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Periodontists are dentists who specialize in diseases of the gums and other structures surrounding the teeth. Periodontics is that branch and specialty of dentistry concerned with the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases and conditions of the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth or their substitutes and the maintenance of the health, function and aesthetics of these structures and tissues.

Periodontal disease is the progressive infection of the gum that causes the destruction of the bone and tissues that support your teeth. It is also the number one reason that adults lose their teeth today; in fact, 75 percent of all adults have gum disease. Periodontal disease starts as gingivitis, the swelling of the gum around your teeth, and left untreated can cause your teeth to drift apart and eventually become so loose that they need to be extracted.

Gum disease can be evaluated in two ways. The first method is to measure gums with a special probe to determine how much space there is between the gum and the tooth. Someone with gum disease has a large space called a pocket, and the more advanced the gum disease, the deeper the pocket. The second method takes x-rays to determine if there has been any bone loss, and if so, where it is, what type of bone loss there is and how much bone has been lost.

Dentists usually refer their patients to a periodontist when their periodontal disease is advanced. However, unlike specialists in many medical professions, individuals do not need to be referred to a periodontist. They can directly make an appointment with a periodontist. Most periodontists routinely advise their patients who smoke to quit, as smoking leads to periodontitis.

On a person's first visit to a periodontist, they will review your complete medical and dental history with you. A periodontists must know if you are taking any medications or being treated for any condition that can affect your periodontal care. Then they will give you a complete oral and periodontal exam. They will examine your gums, check to see if there is any gum line recession, assess how your teeth fit together when you bite and check your teeth to see if any are loose. They will then take a small measuring instrument and place it between your teeth and gums to determine the depth of the periodontal pockets. Some also take x-rays to check the bone levels between your teeth and evaluate possible bone loss.

If diagnosed with a serious periodontal disease, periodontal surgery may be recommended. Surgery is necessary when the tissue around your teeth is unhealthy and cannot be repaired with non-surgical treatment. There are four types of prescribed surgical treatment: pocket reduction procedures, regenerative procedures, crown lengthening and soft tissue grafts.

All patients who undergo periodontal treatment - either surgical or non- surgical - must have their teeth cleaned and their gums checked regularly; every three to four months. Since periodontal disease is a chronic problem, without ongoing treatment the infection and disease will reoccur, and each time it does, more bone can be lost, until eventually the teeth become loose and need to be removed.
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  Interests and Skills  
Periodontists must have good health, eyesight, and good finger and manual dexterity. They must have a gentle, delicate touch and a good degree of mechanical aptitude and ability. They require great interpersonal skills, and can communicate with all of their patients, trying to make them feel more comfortable. They also have the ability to understand and handle many different types and ages of people. Successful periodontists enjoy doing precise work with tools and equipment, and helping people treat diseases of the mouth.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Examine patients' teeth, gums and surrounding tissue to diagnose gingivitis or periodontal disease and help plan appropriate treatment
  • Educate patients on proper and regular oral hygiene processes to help to prevent periodontal diseases
  • Restore, extract and replace diseased teeth
  • Perform periodontal surgery and other non-surgical treatments
  • Treat diseased gum tissue
  • Supervise dental technicians, dental assistants and other staff
  • Most periodontists work eight-hour days during the week, but in order to meet patient time constraints, some may also work weekends and evenings. Also, after hours emergency care is sometimes required. Periodontists perform most of their work sitting down, often in uncomfortable positions. Periodonistry may be a high stress occupation due to working with people who are in pain and are often afraid of them.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Most periodontists work in private practices or they may be employed in hospitals, clinics, public health facilities or universities. Directly upon graduation, periodontists may engage in private practice, however, these days, partnerships with established dental practitioners and group practices are becoming increasingly popular. For instance, some dentists pair up with periodontists and orthodontists and offer three different services to their patients. Better opportunities exist in smaller towns and city centers where the market has yet to be saturated. Some periodontists work for government health services.

  Long Term Career Potential  
With experience and a growing clientele, periodontists may decide to branch out and open up their own practices. Career possibilities outside of dental practice include working as dental educators, researchers, administrators, or sales representatives for dental supply companies. Some may also decide to move into more creative or artistic positions. Many just move into specialty areas, such as cosmetic dentistry or prosthodontics.

  Educational Paths  
Periodontists have a long educational road ahead of them from the high school level. They are required have a bachelor of science degree as the first level. The next step is to obtain a degree from a recognized dental program. Then periodontists must specialize in a three-year program in periodontics and will receive a certificate and/or master's degree in periodontics upon completion of the program. The speciality training includes the basic biological sciences and clinical procedures.

Periodontists must be licensed to practice dentistry and periodontistry. Each region has a licensing body that establishes regulations and requirements for the licensure of general practitioners and specialists within the jurisdiction. There are fees for licensure and specialty registration in each region, which may change annually. Contact the regulatory authority in your jurisdiction to obtain detailed information about licensure, registration, and fees.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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