I think it’s high time I spoke up for my specialty and discipline. I've been mistaken for an Orthodontist wayyy too many times. 🙄
I love my Orthodontist friends, but I need to tell the world that other specialities in Dentistry exist as well!!
Orthodontists are dentists that specialise in braces to align teeth, while we Periodontists specialise in treating gum disease. We're a fairly rare specimen in Singapore, but the numbers are growing.
What's in a name?
My friends can never remember the name of my specialty, but in essence, Periodontists are people who treat diseases AROUND the teeth. Peri = around Odont = tooth. Geddit? 💡
It’s kinda strange, but in general, Periodontists tend to be very soft-spoken, sweet, and introverted because we do a lot of “background’ work in Dentistry. The introverts tend to feel this “calling" to become a Periodontist (aka unsung heroes).
I like to think I'm soft spoken and sweet, *ahem* but the truth is that I'm probably one of the loudest Periodontists in Singapore, JB and some say Batam. 😂 Just ask my kids.
Periodontists are also called gum gardeners in the industry as we tend to the soil that supports the teeth. Not very glamorous, but we do the background work to ensure that you've got good bone and gums to anchor your teeth.
Just a decade or two ago, the layperson generally assumed that as you age, your teeth start to wobble and fall out, and one is destined to wear dentures. #sonottrue.
Now the current scientific thinking is that you CAN and you SHOULD retain your natural teeth. Periodontists are trained to help you achieve just that goal.
Our course also comprises 3 years of residency training to place dental implants safely.
Dental implants should ONLY be used to replace missing teeth that are lost to severe gum disease, or cannot be salvaged for some other reason.
They should NOT be used as an alternative to a tooth that can still be kept through other dental techniques!
Keeping your gums healthy - all in a day's work!
As mentioned above, we Periodontists treat gum disease, which comprises two major forms: Gingivitis and Periodontitis.
The major cause of gum disease is bacterial plaque, a sticky white film composed of food debris and bacteria that forms on the teeth.
- Plaque due to improper brushing only takes 2 days to turn into a hard substance called calculus or tartar
- Tartar then acts as a further bacteria trap due to its rough surface
- Plaque bacteria infects the gums, releasing toxins that cause redness and irritation
- If your body is healthy, it's able to fight off the bacteria, and the disease remains as Gingivitis
For Gingivitis, there's no bone loss, and the gums just exhibit signs of inflammation like bleeding and swelling.
However, when Gingivitis is left untreated, it may progress to Periodontitis.
- If your immune system is weakened from smoking, stress, or other medical conditions, the bacteria wins!
- Bone and gums surrounding the teeth melt away due to chemicals released by your body, as it desperately tries to wall off the bacteria
- When this happens, the gums separate from the teeth, forming pockets that fill with even more plaque, causing even more infection. A vicious cycle now ensues
The above process causes shaky teeth, which may eventually fall out. Bad breath also ensues from the build-up of bacteria in the gums.
So please, do seek help early if you think that you might have gum disease! You can take this quiz to find out whether you do.
As a yoga teacher (I moonlight as one sometimes to supplement my income 😂), I can also highly recommend yoga to help boost your immunity so you become less susceptible to gum disease.
So there you go, this is my job scope and what I do as a Periodontist day after day.
Our job may be pretty dirty, 'cos we are cleaning out dirt from your gums everyday. But it's also super rewarding when you see the tartar pop out from the gums, like blackheads being removed while you are doing a facial. 😑
Besides gunning for world peace, I want to tell the world that your teeth can be saved by proper brushing and flossing habits while leading a healthy lifestyle to boost immunity. Here's to more information to saving teeth! 🥂
Dr Marlene Teo is a Periodontist (gum specialist) at TP Dental. She holds a joint appointment as Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the National University of Singapore. Dr Teo passionately believes in leading a holistic and healthy lifestyle to boost immunity and combat periodontal disease.