Periodontics is the branch of dentistry that focuses on the health of your gums and jawbone — the tissues that support your teeth. A gum specialist is called a periodontist. After going to a four-year dental school, they receive three additional years of focused training in periodontics.
Periodontics is a dental specialty. The word “periodontics” comes from two Greek words: “peri,” which means “around” and “odont,” which means“tooth.” So, the field of periodontics treats conditions that affect the tissues “around your teeth,” such as bone loss, gum recession and periodontal (gum) disease.
A general or family dentist focuses on preventative and restorative treatments. For instance, if you need a routine dental cleaning, you see your dentist. A dentist also fills cavities and places restorations such as dental crowns or dental bridges. In the U.S., a general dentist must graduate from a four-year dental school before receiving their license to practice.
A periodontist is a gum specialist. They focus on treating conditions that affect the tissues that support your teeth (such as your gums and jawbone). In addition to graduating from a four-year dental school, a periodontist receives three years of additional training before earning their license to practice periodontics in the U.S.
There are several reasons why someone would need to see a periodontist. Some people only need to see a periodontist temporarily. In other words, they may need to undergo treatment that’s outside the scope of practice for a general dentist. For example, maybe you need a gum graft, bone graft or frenectomy. A periodontist can perform your surgical treatment, then refer you back to your general dentist when your recovery is complete.
Other people may need to see a periodontist long term. This includes people who are prone to gum disease. Those who are genetically predisposed to gum disease usually need periodontal cleanings in addition to routine cleanings at their dentist’s office. In these cases, your periodontist will work closely alongside of your general dentist. You’ll continue to receive care from both of them in order to maintain optimal oral health.
A periodontist treats oral health issues that affect your periodontium (the tissues around your teeth). This includes your:
A periodontist can perform a wide range of periodontal treatments, including periodontal maintenance, scaling and root planing, and several types of periodontal surgery.
Periodontal maintenance refers to a type of teeth cleaning. It’s similar to a regular cleaning at your dentist’s office. But in addition to cleaning your teeth, your periodontist or hygienist checks your gum health and measures the pockets around your teeth. (When you lose bone around your teeth, the pockets get deeper.) Many people who need periodontal maintenance should have these cleanings every three to four months. Your periodontist can recommend a cleaning schedule that’s right for you.
“Scaling and root planing (SRP)” is another term for a deep dental cleaning. The main difference is that SRP requires local anesthesia to numb your gums. This allows your hygienist to clean deep underneath your gum line, where harmful bacteria hide. They’ll also smooth the surfaces of your teeth roots to discourage plaque and bacteria from building up.
Periodontists typically recommend scaling and root planing for people with early-stage (mild) gum disease.
A periodontist routinely performs gum surgeries. There are several different types of surgical periodontal treatments, including:
Many periodontists also place dental implants, though the procedure isn’t exclusive to the field of periodontics. Oral surgeons and some general dentists place dental implants as well.
Most periodontists offer sedation dentistry to keep you comfortable during your procedure. These options may include nitrous oxide, oral sedation or IV (intravenous) sedation.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Healthy gums are just as important as healthy teeth. Periodontists are dental specialists who care for your gums and other tissues around your teeth. It might be scary if your dentist refers you to a periodontist, especially if you’ve never been to one. But if you have gum disease, a periodontist has the knowledge, training and experience to treat the problem and help you maintain good oral health.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/30/2022.
Learn more about our editorial process.