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Periodontics is the branch of dentistry concerned with surrounding support structures of the tooth, particularly the gingiva (gum tissue), the periodontal ligament, and the alveolar bone. When periodontal disease is present, these support structures become inflamed and start to break down leading to gingivitis and periodontitis.

Gingivitis simply refers to an inflammation in the gingival tissues - the gums around the teeth appear puffy and red and often bleed. Periodontitis occurs when gingivitis is allowed to progress and involves bone loss around the teeth. Advanced stages of periodontitis result in deep gingival pockets allowing for extreme mobility of the teeth. This disease increases the risk of root caries and may eventually lead to tooth loss if untreated.

Periodontal treatment begins with scaling and root planning. This type of treatment is basically the removal of plaque and calculus from the teeth and can be done with hand instruments and/or ultrasonic electric scalers. In instances where pocket depths around teeth are particularly deep, periodontal surgery may be necessary in order to reach all of the surfaces of the teeth. This involves removing gingival tissue around the teeth and lowering the tissue closer to the bone level. In addition to these basic periodontal therapies, periodontists regularly perform gingivectomies, gingival grafts, crown lengthening, alveolar ridge augmentation, local delivery of periodontal antibiotics, and dental implants.

Currently there are approximately 5,000 periodontists in the United States with an average yearly income of over $200,000. Residency in periodontics usually lasts 2 to 3 years following completion of dental school. For a complete list of periodontic residency programs in the U.S. and Canada as well as tips for getting into periodontics, visit the American Academy of Periodontology.

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