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What's the Difference Between a Dentist and a Periodontist?

Many patients have only been treated by a general dentist unless they have experienced more advanced dental issues. Thus, it is not always clear what the differences are between a general dentist and a dental specialist, such as a periodontist. In this post, we will review the differences between the two and provide information on when to see your regular dentist and when to see a periodontist.

What is a Dentist?

A dentist is an oral health care provider that is responsible for managing an individual's oral health through prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of teeth, gums, and bone. These include detecting and treating cavities, improving a patient's oral hygiene, and providing tooth replacement options for missing teeth or teeth that need to be removed. In order to become a dentist, an individual will need to complete four years of dental school and if they wish continue additional clinical training through a one year residency program. 

What Does a Dentist Do?

Dentists are our primary source for routine dental care to maintain excellent oral health and hygiene. While we associate dentists with performing routine cleanings and filling cavities they are also responsible for many other procedures in maintaining a patient's oral hygiene.

  • Diagnose and treat oral diseases
  • Teach effective oral health practices
  • Promote Disease Prevention
  • Analyze and interpret dental x-rays
  • Plan treatment of oral health issues
  • Perform routine exams, fillings, cleanings, crowns, tooth extractions, root canals, and dentures
  • Treat mild forms of gum disease

When Should You See a Dentist?

Portrait of smiling female dentist reading reports

Patients should see their dentist at least every 6 months for routine dental cleanings and check-ups. However, if a patient experiences any dental issues or concerns an appointment is warranted to diagnose and treat the problem. Patients undergoing any specialized treatments will require more frequent appointments and follow-ups with their dentist.

What is a Periodontist?

A periodontist is a dental specialist that focuses on preventing, diagnosing, and treating gums, bone, and roots of teeth. These three components make up the foundation supporting our teeth known as the "periodontium". In addition, periodontists are dental implant specialists that provide a new foundation for missing teeth or teeth that are going to be replaced with the addition of bone and/or gum grafting.

Periodontists focus on treating bone loss and inflammation known as periodontal disease. Periodontal disease begins when bacteria, also known as plaque or tartar, build up around the teeth causing the gums to loosen and become diseased. Periodontal disease reduces support around a tooth leading to bleeding gums, tooth mobility, tooth sensitivity, gum recession, and bad breath. Periodontal treatment involves controlling disease and inflammation progression leading to improved oral health care.


In order to become a periodontist, a dentist must first earn their dental degree in general dentistry and complete a three year residency program in periodontics and implant dentistry. During their training, they focus on non-surgical and surgical periodontal therapies, dental implant surgery, bone grafting, gum grafting, gum lifting and IV sedation. 

What Does a Periodontist Do?

In addition to some of the services a general dentist performs, a periodontist treats moderate to severe cases of gum disease. Their treatment options include procedures such as:

  • Periodontal Scaling & Root Planing
  • Root Surface Debridement
  • Periodontal Surgery
  • Soft Tissue Grafting (Gum Grafting)
  • Esthetic Gum Procedures (Gum Lifting)
  • Extractions with Bone Grafting
  • Placing and Maintaining Dental Implants
  • Regenerative Bone Grafting Around Teeth and Implants
  • Regenerative procedures to reverse gum disease damage
  • IV Sedation

When Should You See a Periodontist?

periodontitis tooth example It is common that most people will not consider a visit to a periodontist until they are facing an emergent or advanced dental issue related to their gums. 

While dentists are able to treat gum disease it is in the best interest of patients with moderate to severe gum disease to also see a periodontist for treatment and care in conjunction with their dentist. 

How often you will need to see a periodontist depends on your dental situation and needs. It is common for patients to alternate visits with their periodontist and general dentist as part of their treatment or maintenance plan.

Notable Differences between Dentists and Periodontists

The main difference between these two dental professionals is the education requirements for each. A general dentist is eligible to practice at the completion of their dental education, examination, and licensing. A periodontist must attain the same schooling as a general dentist and must then train for an additional 3 years in their specialty. During their speciality training they become experts in managing and treating gum disease, gum recession, saving teeth, placing dental implants, and providing IV sedation.

While a dentist engages in the overall care of a patient's oral health, a periodontist is mainly focused on the care of patients suffering from issues stemming from soft tissue and bone diseases. Our periodontist can help treat and control these issues and promote better oral health care needs.

Learn more about periodontics or schedule an appointment with North Shore Smile Surgery to address your dental concerns.


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