According to the Center for Disease Control half of American adults have periodontal disease — that is, over 64 million adults age 30 and older. The disease ranges from mild to severe periodontitis where the inflammation of the gums and the effect on bone tissue can lead to tooth loss. For older adults, aged 65 or above, the rate of periodontitis increases to 70 percent.
What is a Periodontist?
Periodontists focus on highly prevalent types of gum disease, as well as other issues of the gums and bones around the jaw. The work of the periodontist may be preventative — helping patients who are at risk for gum disease — or it may be surgical or cosmetic for patients who are already suffering from gum disease or related problems. Based on the severity of the disease, the periodontist may be involved in implants and other procedures to help people who are experiencing tooth loss.
Unlike other dentists that may refer their more acute patients to specialist, a periodontist may be involved in examinations, surgeries, and implants. The most common diseases that a periodontist will encounter are:
Based on these cases, a periodontist may be called upon to perform any of the following treatments:
Educational Requirements to Becoming a Periodontist
The minimum educational requirement for becoming a periodontist is a doctoral degree in dentistry or dental surgery, and specialized training in periodontics.
Step-by-Step Educational Path to Becoming a Periodontist
The bachelor’s degree is the beginning of all training for dentists. The four years of school right after high school is when a strong foundation of scientific knowledge is laid and students are given the opportunity to develop a discipline and passion for learning that will fuel the rest of their education and career.
There are a few keys ways that an aspiring periodontist can use their time as an undergraduate student to advance their career, and include:
The above suggestions will help the student prepare mentally and intellectually for dental school, give them the experience and scores that will make them a competitive candidate for dental school, and give them a foundational knowledge of dental practice, in order to help them when they are training in clinic. In addition, planning ahead by ensuring all coursework, entrance exams, and experience is complete before applying to dental school is the best way to hasten training.
Dental school is very competitive, and some schools are more competitive than other schools when it comes to acceptance. The more a student is familiar with the requirements of the school they are applying to, and the earlier they research this information, the more they may be able to set themselves apart from other applicants.
However, once admitted into dental school, the challenge continues. During the four years of study toward obtaining a doctorate, the student is likely to witness many students dropping out of school. Courses in science and anatomy are very detailed, and testing can be very stressful. Each milestone is met with another challenge, and the student must be prepared to continue in a balanced and discipline manner through all the various challenges of dental school.
As studies progress, students move from scientific coursework to hands-on training and testing of skills. Under direct and detailed supervision, a student will begin completing tasks and testing to prove they have the skills and knowledge necessary to be a good dentist.
Looking forward to residency, students in dental school should be aware that periodontist residencies are very competitive. Taking advantage of opportunities to get experience, working directly with practicing periodontists, and maintaining high standards of grades and test scores will help them land one of the few available spots for the further training that is required.
An aspiring periodontist must continue on to a residency program after completing dental school and obtaining their dental licensure. A periodontist’s residency will be between 30 and 36 months in length, and may be offered by a university, a hospital, or another medical office.
In order to apply for a postdoctoral periodontal program, submission of National Board exam scores, a dental degree, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and, in some cases, a portfolio are required.
The following is from the American Academy of Periodontology:
The American Academy of Periodontology recommends that programs accept students with a class standing in the upper 50 percent; National Board scores about 80 percentile; and, when applicable, GRE scores above 1000.
Very few opportunities exist around the country for this residency, so applicants should be prepared to face stiff competition. Anything they can do to set themselves apart in order to win one of the coveted spots is wise, including being prepared to submit previous and applicable work, advanced studies, or volunteer experience.
All states require that dentists be licensed through a process of written and practical exams. Most states have specific licensing requirements that include education, exam scores and continuing education minimums. Every dentist should look up their specific state requirements and be mindful of all submission deadlines, timelines, and disciplinary action associated with their license.
For periodontists, there is an option board certification by the American Board of Periodontology. To gain this certification, one must have an unencumbered dental license, have completed a periodontics education program, per the regulations of the board, and pass the board exams. This certification also has renewal requirements that must be met to maintain board certification.
Understanding the Career Path
Periodontists work in private practices, group practices, clinics, at dental schools and in hospitals. Each of these work environments bring with them different advantages and disadvantages. Working in a private or group practice almost always gives the dentist the opportunity to control schedule, pay, and patient load, which makes it an enticing option for those willing to do the work to grow a new practice. Meanwhile, some state-run clinics may be great opportunities, but require a much higher patient load and more administrative paperwork.
Dental schools and universities may also offer research opportunities for periodontists who are interested in exploring the field, writing about their findings to improve patient care practices, and understanding of how the diseases that periodontics attend to affect the health and well-being of their patients. However, these roles have limited direct patient care.
Periodontists in the United States have a similar pay range as dentists, and average between $120,000 and $240,000 a year. This range is based on geographical location, type of employment, and years of experience.
A periodontist can also earn more money in a private practice setting or group practice setting, where they co-own and operate the practice. This allows for more control over salary and bonus options. Acquiring specializations that are needed in a geographical area may also increase pay. For example, new techniques and procedures or tools, may set the periodontist apart from those who are slower to evolve in this ever-changing field. Research opportunities may also exist, allowing the periodontist to be more involved in the field and become an expert, which may also mean an increase in pay.