How to Become a Periodontist

October 11, 2023


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 10/11/23

Read on to learn how to become a periodontist. In this guide, we talk about steps to take to become a periodontist, periodontist responsibilities, and more! 

Dentistry is a respected medical career with tons of great opportunities, especially if you work as a periodontist. Students interested in this career path have many questions, from “how to become a periodontist?” to “how long does it take to become a periodontist?”

Luckily, this guide will explore the exciting career of this healthcare specialty, answering the above questions and much more!

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Steps to Becoming a Periodontist

To become a periodontist, students must gain the education, skills, and licensure required to practice in the US. Typically, it can take up to 11 years to become a certified periodontist. 

From pursuing undergraduate studies to getting into dental school, discover the typical path taken to become a periodontist.

Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

To start the journey of becoming a periodontist, students typically earn their four-year bachelor’s degree. While a science degree is not needed for dental school per se, building scientific knowledge during your undergrad is helpful for dental school. During your studies, it’s wise for students to take courses in biology, chemistry, and human anatomy.

Completing the DAT

Prior to applying to dental school, it’s imperative that students complete the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). This test can be completed during or after a student’s undergraduate studies. Much like the MCAT, the DAT can be a challenging assessment that requires rigorous studying and preparation.

Dental School

After earning your bachelor’s, you will then have to pursue an education at an accredited dental school for your Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. Dental school takes four years to complete, which also includes in-class learning, hands-on training, lab work, and mentorship.

During the final two years of dental school, students will have an opportunity to interact with patients. At this time, you can gain hands-on experience and mentorships from actual periodontists. By your final year of study, students can apply for a residency in periodontology.

Initial Licensure Through the NBDE

Prior to pursuing a residency in periodontics, it’s essential to complete the National Board Dental Examinations (NBDE)

Many students take the NBDE in their fourth-year of dental school. Completing this exam grants dental students to practice dentistry at a specific state. That means this examination does not distribute universal licensure; each state has its own requirements.

Residency In Periodontics

Students who successfully snag a residency in periodontology can further develop their skills towards becoming a periodontist. Typically, residency can last about 36 months, and exposes students to various surgical techniques, periodontal diseases, and clinical research.

Board-Certified Periodontist

Toward the end of the residency, students can pursue a certification by the American Board of Periodontology (ABP) to become a board-certified periodontist. To achieve this, you must pass a written and oral examination organized by the ABP. A certified periodontist may look more reputable to prospective patients.

What Does a Periodontist Do?

Sometimes, maintaining a great smile requires more than just seeing a general dentist. A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in periodontal diseases (commonly known as “gum disease”) and dental implants. While general dentists are trained to treat mild cases of periodontal diseases, serious conditions require the intervention of a good periodontist.

When patients experience symptoms like loose teeth, swollen gums, or discomfort around the gumline, general dentists may refer their patients to periodontists. They are also summoned when patients require dental implants. These specialists use their expertise to maintain their patient’s beautiful smiles!

Periodontists treat and help patients manage their periodontal diseases, which affects 47.2% American adults over the age of 30. From advanced periodontist to tooth decay, periodontists harbor many responsibilities including, but not limited to:

  • Scaling/root planing to remove plaque build-up around the gum line
  • Administering medication, depending on the gum disease
  • Bone grafts to promote bone regrowth
  • Laser gum surgery
  • Surgical procedures like dental crowning, dental implants,gum grafts, or ridge augmentation

Besides experiencing satisfaction from helping patients, the periodontist salary and career prospects are other exciting factors to consider. If you’re keen on this career, it’s best to first understand how to become a periodontist.

Periodontist Salary and Career Outlook

A periodontist salary can be as low as $112,341 or as high as $362,776. On average, these specialty dentists may receive a base salary around $201,878 annually. There are many jobs across the US for periodontists, with high-paying opportunities in areas like Dallas (Texas), Silver Spring (Maryland), and Boston (Massachusetts). 

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the employment projections for dentists (including specialty dentists like periodontists) are fairly positive. In the next few years, employment is projected to grow by 4%, primarily due to an aging workforce.

FAQs: Becoming a Periodontist

Besides identifying the steps needed to become a periodontist, you may have other questions related to the career. Refer to these frequently asked questions to satiate your curiosity about this specialty career path!

1. How Long Does It Take to Become a Periodontist?

It can take up to 11 years to become a board-certified periodontist in the US. Within this timeline, the typical path of a periodontist include:

  • Obtaining a bachelor’s degree (four years)
  • Completing dental school (four years)
  • Applying and completing a residency in periodontics (approximately 36 months)

Keep in mind that this timeline may vary depending on the time needed for students to complete licensure exams like the NBDE or the oral/written examination by the ABP.

2. Do Periodontists Go to Med School?

No, periodontists do not go to medical school. Instead, periodontists enrol in dental school prior to obtaining their license to practice in the US. However, much like medical students, dental students must complete a residency. For prospective periodontists, they must complete a residency in periodontics, which can take up to 36 months.

3. Who Makes More Dentists or Periodontists?

When considering the average annual wage, the periodontist salary is higher than the compensation for dentists. In recent years, the average yearly salary for dentists was around $159,530. Meanwhile, the periodontists can expect to take home about $201,878 per year on average.

Salary expectations also change depending on where they work. In cities like Dallas or Silver Spring, periodontists may earn more. However, in cities like San Diego or North Hampton, they are likely to earn less. 

4. What Degree Is Needed to be a Periodontist?

In order to be a periodontist, you must earn a DDS or DMD degree from an accredited dental school. Before you apply to dental school, you must obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree.

To become board-certified, you must also pass an oral or written examination issued by the American Board of Periodontology. This certification highlights a periodontist’s expertise and is attractive to prospective patients.

Final Thoughts

Choosing a career in periodontics can be incredibly rewarding; it allows you to provide specialized care for patients' gums and make a meaningful difference in their lives. Although the journey can be challenging, the satisfaction that comes with the profession is well worth it. 

In addition to managing and treating gum disease, periodontists can also help patients gain self-confidence by improving the appearance of their smiles.

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