a different kind of dentistry.

Lexington Dentist


General Dentistry and Periodontics: What’s the Difference?

Dentist showing patient a model of teeth in a dental office.

What is the difference between a general dentist and a periodontist? 

While both general dentists and periodontists perform work on your teeth, the nature of that work differs. General dentists are trained medical professionals who perform a broad range of oral-health related tasks, such as fillings, extractions, cleanings, and root canals. Periodontists, however, are more specialized, working mainly on the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of periodontal disease as well as placing dental implants. 

Both dentists and periodontists must undergo general dentists training. However, the latter needs to complete several more years of dental school before conducting more specialist work. Once qualified, they can offer a broad range of treatments, including cosmetic and restorative dental procedures. 

What are general dental services?

General dental services are a catch-all term for anything non-specialist that a dentist might offer to improve or maintain your overall oral health. It includes fitting bridges and crowns, providing fillings, dental hygiene services, dentures, X-rays, mouth guards, full mouth reconstruction, veneers, teeth whitening, and even oral cancer screening. 

General dental services are for all the family. Practitioners see both children and adults, including those entering their senior years. They provide coaching on proper oral hygiene and work with patients of all ages to reduce oral health issues in the future. 

What are periodontal services?

The term periodontal means “around the tooth.” Thus, periodontal services refer to a specific range of techniques for dealing with periodontal disease and ensuring implants’ correct placement. 

Periodontitis is a severe form of gum disease where the bacteria penetrate the gum lining and begin making their way down the teeth’ roots. It is painful and leads to swelling and pus. If allowed to progress to its final stages, it destroys the structures that hold the teeth in place, leading to tooth loss. 

Periodontal services seek to arrest the progress of the disease and prevent it from returning. Periodontists offer a wide range of therapies, including root planing (which scrapes plaque off the surface of teeth below the gum line), surface debridement (to remove infected gum tissue), and a range of surgical procedures. A typical trip to the periodontist will involve checks for gum recession, bite tests to ensure proper arrangement of teeth, and tests to check the depth of periodontal pockets – openings between the gum and teeth. 

Should I see a dentist or a periodontist?

Whether you see a periodontist or general dentist depends very much on your circumstances. The vast majority of general dentists have the skills and tools available to control periodontitis and ensure implants’ correct placement. Often, patients do not need to go to a separate periodontist for specialist treatment. 

General dentists diagnose and treat the vast majority of dental issues. For instance, dentists can provide fillings, clean your teeth professionally, perform root canals and extractions, and offer cosmetic procedures, such as whitening. They can also provide veneers, some forms of teeth straightening, and implants. Thus, general dentists are the first port of call for most patients.

In some cases, a periodontist might be the better option, but usually only upon referral by a general dentist. Periodontists have training in specialist therapies that specifically target the bacteria causing infection and damage below the gumline. Many have training in laser therapies that kill harmful bacteria and prevent them from getting under the gumline in the future.

Reasons to visit a periodontist 

Here are some of the situations in which getting periodontal services makes sense: 

  • Your gums are red, swollen, or bleeding. A bit of blood when you spit toothpaste in the sink doesn’t necessarily mean you have periodontal disease. However, if you have swelling and redness around your teeth that don’t disappear with time, it could indicate a severe infection. In this case, you may wish to pay a visit to your periodontist. 
  • Your teeth feel loose. Periodontitis destroys the structures that support the teeth and hold them in their sockets, making the disease a common cause of loose teeth. As discussed, periodontists use special techniques to rescue your teeth and prevent further damage and tooth loss. 
  • Your bite is different. Periodontists also deal with the issue of “bite” or how your teeth close when you chew. Ideally, this shouldn’t change much throughout your life. However, some periodontal issues can cause teeth to move in their sockets, potentially leading to gum disease and tooth loss. 
  • You have pain that won’t go away. Periodontists can usually track general pain in your mouth down to a single tooth. Often a lone infection in, say, a wisdom tooth can transmit pain along the entire row of teeth on the affected side. Periodontists provide examinations that help you to diagnose and treat the issue correctly. 

Can the dentist give you something for anxiety?

Dental anxiety is a phenomenon dentists take very seriously. Surveys indicate that around 15 percent of Americans avoid the dentist entirely because of fear and anxiety related to various procedures. 

However, general dentists can provide several methods to help calm your anxiety, depending on how distressed you feel. Most of these techniques keep you conscious but make you feel more relaxed.

Inhaled minimal sedation is the mildest form of sedation. It involves administering nitrous oxide through the nose continually throughout treatment, which then absorbs into the body. You feel awake but relaxed. 

For more severe anxiety, general dentists will deliver moderate sedation in oral pill form. You’ll take Halcion, a drug closely related to valium, around an hour before the procedure, which will take away many of your concerns. 

For deep sedation, your dentist might prescribe a sedative drug intravenously. These get to work quickly, making you feel relaxed and calm almost immediately. All of a sudden, all your dental anxiety disappears, and you are often hardly aware of the work being done on your teeth. 

Finally, there is anesthesia, which makes you entirely unconscious. Most general dentists try to avoid this kind of treatment for anxiety since it carries risks that the others do not. 

If you feel that you are affected by any of the oral health issues raised in this article, book an appointment with us right away. Our expert team of general dentists and specialists can offer advice and give treatment where required.