Dental specialties: becoming a periodontist

August 4, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Students having a conversation with a member of dental staff in Tanzania. Before, during or after dental school, you may decide you want to specialize. One specialty you may want to consider is periodontology. Periodontists are dentists who specialize in treating periodontal disease, which is more commonly referred to as gum disease.

Healthy gums are the foundation of good dental health. If your gums are not healthy, certain types of dental treatments may not work. Research has also indicated that gum disease may play a part in the development of other types of health problems, such as heart disease.



What does a periodontist do?

Periodontists treat patients with various stages of gum disease, bone loss, and missing teeth. They perform dental exams and take medical histories. They may also use sophisticated technology in order to diagnose periodontal disease. After determining what the problem is, periodontists develop a treatment plan. Treatment plans may be complex and involve a variety of procedures. An example of a procedure a periodontist may do is removing bacteria from around the gum line, which can lead to infection.   

Surgical skills are also needed since periodontists do different types of surgical procedures, including tissue grafting and crown lengthening. Periodontists also do dental implant surgery, which involves surgically inserting an implant into the jawbone in order to replace a lost tooth. In addition to various types of procedures and treatment plans, periodontists also educate patients on ways to prevent future or worsening gum disease.      


A career in periodontics starts by preparing in college. Dental school admissions committees consider all college majors, but classes in math, chemistry, physics and biology are needed at the upper division level before applying to dental school. You will also have to take the dental school admission exam in order to get into dental school.

Once you are accepted into dental school, you will study all aspects of dentistry through a combination of classroom lectures and clinical laboratory work. Even after you complete four years of dental school, you are not quite finished. Periodontists are required to complete a periodontics residency, which is usually three years long. In order to become board certified, you will need to pass a written and oral exam administered by the American Board of Periodontology.


Working as a periodontist can have several advantages. The dental field is always evolving. New treatments and diagnostic tools are always emerging in periodontics, which can keep the field challenging. The connection between gum disease and other health problems has created research opportunities in the field, which some dentists may enjoy.

In this specialty, you will also have the opportunity to improve your patients’ lives. Missing teeth can interfere with a person’s ability to eat, speak and talk normally. It can also decrease self-esteem and limit the way a person lives. A periodontist develops a treatment plan to replace missing teeth and restore function. Knowing you played a part in changing the way a person lives can be gratifying.


Most periodontists go into private practice by themselves or as part of a group. Although salaries vary, according to Stony Brook Medical Center, periodontists in the Unites States average between $120,000 and $240,000 a year.