Ask a Periodontist

Do you have a question about periodontal health or how to maintain healthy teeth and gums? Review our frequently asked questions or submit your own question to a periodontist, who's an expert in the treatment, diagnosis and prevention of gum disease.



Frequently Asked Questions


Answers to Frequently Asked Questions


What are the consequences of missing teeth?

There are actually several negative consequences of missing some or all of your teeth. First, missing teeth will affect the esthetics of your face. Not only will your smile be affected by the gaps from missing teeth, but if youíre missing too many teeth, the skin around your mouth wonít be supported properly and will start to sag, making your appear older than you are. Additionally, missing teeth will make it more difficult to chew your food properly and may even affect the way you speak. Finally, missing even one tooth may have emotional consequences; many people feel less confident about their smile when they are missing teeth. If you are currently missing any of your teeth, consider replacing them with dental implants, which can look and feel just like natural teeth. For more information about implants, browse www.perio.org or talk to your periodontist.

I have big gums and short teeth, so when I smile you can almost only see my gums. I donít smile very often anymore because I am so self conscious of my gums. Is there a way to improve my smile?

Yes, there may be a way to enhance your smile. Itís a good idea to discuss your options with a periodontist first. He or she can explain the best way to create the smile you want, as well as answer any questions that you may have. For example, one procedure that can remove excess gum tissue is called crown lengthening. After the excess gum tissue is removed, the gum line is then reshaped in order to create the right proportion between gum tissue and tooth surface. Your general dentist and periodontist may also work together to coordinate additional treatments such as veneers or crowns. However, your periodontist and general dentist will recommend the best procedure to improve your smile.

Is periodontal disease contagious?

Research has shown that periodontal disease is caused by the inflammatory reaction to bacteria under the gums, so periodontal disease technically may not be contagious. However, the bacteria that cause the inflammatory reaction can be spread through saliva. This means that if one of your family members has periodontal disease, itís a good idea to avoid contact with their saliva by not sharing eating utensils or oral health equipment. If you notice that your spouse or a family member has the warning signs of a possible periodontal problem (bleeding, red and swollen gums, or bad breath) you may want to suggest that they see the periodontist for an exam. It may help to protect the oral health of everyone in the family.

I was recently diagnosed with periodontal disease. How often should I see my periodontist for an examination?

Regular examinations are very important to keep track of the present status of your disease and any disease progression over time. Your periodontist will work with you to create a maintenance schedule depending on how advanced your periodontal disease is at that time. Based on many variable factors such as your overall health, the severity of bone loss, and risk factors such as smoking and genetics, your periodontist will constantly tailor your care so your periodontal disease does not progress further. He or she may recommend exams every six months for mild periodontal disease, or every few months for more advanced stages.

I was recently diagnosed with periodontal disease. My periodontist mentioned that laser surgery would be an appropriate option for my treatment course. Is laser surgery safe? Is it as effective as traditional treatment courses?

There seems to be a lot of mixed messages when it comes to the use of lasers in periodontal treatment. Currently, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that any specific laser wavelength is superior to the traditional treatment methods of the common periodontal diseases, such as periodontitis. Therefore, it is always in your best interest to talk with your individual periodontist about the particular laser or therapy he or she plans on using, and why he or she feels that it is the best course of treatment for your particular case. If you still have concerns, you may want to contact another periodontist in your area for a second opinion.

My periodontist says that he is ďboard certified.Ē What does that mean?

All periodontists must complete an additional two to three years of specialized training in periodontics following dental school. However, some periodontists opt to take the board-certification examination, which is offered by the American Board of Periodontology once per year. Board certification in periodontology denotes someone who has made significant achievements beyond the mandatory educational requirements of the specialty, including demonstrating a comprehensive mastery of all phases of periodontal disease and treatment and in the placement of dental implants. Recertification is required every six years.

I lost a tooth, and Iím interested in replacing it with an implant. How much does the average implant cost?

Due to trade laws the American Academy of Periodontology is unable to track the costs associated with placing implants. In addition, the costs of implants can often vary from urban to rural areas and will depend on how many implants you receive as well as the type of implant. You should discuss the financial and time commitments associated with dental implants with your periodontist. Additionally, you may want to call several periodontal offices in your area to find out the average cost associated with the procedure you are looking to have done.

My dentist told me that I have signs of periodontal disease and that I should see a periodontist for a consultation. How can I find a periodontist in my area?

When you are diagnosed with symptoms of periodontal disease, seeing a periodontist for a consultation is a great first step. There are a few ways to find a periodontist in your area. First, you can ask your dentist for a referral. Your dentist most likely has a periodontist that he or she has worked with in the past, and may even be familiar with the types of services that a particular periodontist specializes in.

You can also find a periodontist on the AAP website. To use the form, enter basic information about where you live and how far youíre willing to travel to see a periodontist. The website will then provide a listing of periodontists in your area.

Finally, you may want to ask friends or family members about their experiences with their periodontists. They will be able to provide feedback and offer advice as well.

I have heard there is a connection between gum disease and heart disease. Is this true? Where can I find more information?

The connection between gum disease and heart disease is a very hot topic in the field of periodontics right now. Several research studies have indicated that heart disease and gum disease may be linked, and researchers suspect that inflammation may be the basis behind this relationship. If you are at risk for heart disease, it is a good idea to mention this to your periodontist, since gum disease may increase this risk. Get additional information on the connection between heart disease and gum disease, as well as the connection between gum disease and other systemic conditions.

Both of my parents have periodontal disease, and Iím worried that it may be genetic. Is there a way to determine my risk for developing gum disease?

First of all, congratulations on being proactive about your health. Recent research has shown that genetics may be involved in a personís risk for gum disease, but there are a variety of other factors that also play a role. The American Academy of Periodontology has an online risk assessment tool that you can use to determine your risk level for gum disease. The test only takes a few minutes to take, and you should discuss the results with your periodontist. Take the gum disease risk assessment test.

What can I do at home to prevent periodontal disease?

The best way to prevent periodontal disease is to take good care of your teeth and gums at home. This includes brushing your teeth after every meal and before bedtime, flossing at least once each day, and seeing your dentist or periodontist for regular exams twice a year. Spending a few minutes a day on preventative measures may save you the time and money of treating periodontal disease.

My periodontist informed me that I need implants, but I canít afford them at this time. Is there any financial assistance for periodontal treatments?

There are a few resources you can research for financial assistance. The first is your periodontist. Many periodontists are willing to set up financing options, such as a payment plan. They also may know of insurance plans that can help cover the cost of your implants.

Another resource is your state dental society. They may be able to give a listing of organizations or individuals that may help subsidize the cost of your implants. Find the contact information for your state society.

Finally, contact a local college or university. Many universities have dental schools that offer clinics that provide care at a reduced cost. Select from a list of schools that have periodontal programs.

What are common signs and symptoms of periodontal disease?

  • Periodontal disease is often silent, meaning symptoms- particularly pain- may not appear until an advanced stage of the disease. However, you should still be on the lookout for the signs and symptoms, which include:
  • Red, swollen or tender gums or other pain in your mouth
  • Bleeding while brushing, flossing, or when eating certain foods
  • Gums that are receding or pulling away from the teeth, causing the teeth to look longer than before
  • Loose or separating teeth
  • Pus between your gums and teeth
  • Sores in your mouth
  • Persistent bad breath
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • A change in the fit of partial dentures
If you notice any of these symptoms, be sure to contact your dentist or periodontist right away. Find a periodontist in your area.

Other than diagnose and treat gum disease, what else have periodontists been trained to do?

Most periodontists spend the majority of their time diagnosing and treating gum disease, but there are a variety other procedures that they are able to perform. Periodontists place dental implants when natural teeth cannot be saved. They also monitor the implants to make sure that theyíre properly doing their job. Periodontists may also correct gum recession and cover up exposed root surfaces which can be unsightly as well as sensitive to hot and cold. These procedures are often used to lay the foundation for additional cosmetic procedures to help create a beautiful smile. Finally, periodontists can be integral in the comprehensive planning of your oral care, along with your general dentist or other dental professional.

Can children be at risk for developing periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is rarely found in children, and only sometimes found in adolescents. However, children should still learn the importance of keeping their teeth and gums healthy to prevent periodontal disease in the future. Children should brush their teeth twice a day and learn how to floss properly- if children learn how to floss at an early age, they will be more likely to make it a lifetime habit. These two simple acts will help protect their teeth and gums from periodontal disease.

As a parent, you should also be aware of the warning signs of periodontal disease, which include red, swollen, bleeding gums or bad breath that wonít go away. If your child develops any of these symptoms, tell your dental professional right away. Itís also a good idea to ensure your dental professional knows your complete family history, as genetics can play an important role in the early development of periodontal disease.