How to Become a Periodontist

Three Parts:Getting a Base Education and ExperiencePursuing a Residency in PeriodontologyWorking as a Periodontist

Periodontists are dentists who specialize in treating the gums, bones, and tissues that support your teeth. Two areas in which periodontists are important are dental cosmetics and implant dentistry.[1] Periodontics can be a great profession if you like to worth with and help people. You can become a periodontist in the United States by pursuing the required education and experience and applying for different types of periodontic jobs.

Part 1
Getting a Base Education and Experience

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    Pursue a bachelor’s degree. To be a periodontist, you need to attend dental school and 3 years of specialized training in the field of periodontics. In order to qualify for either of these, you must first get a bachelor’s degree. You don’t necessarily need to focus on pre-medicine, biology, or other scientific fields, but they may help you get into and excel at dental school.[2]
    • Consider taking courses in chemistry, biology, biochemistry, and anatomy once you decide to pursue periodontics. These can help you pass the entrance exam for dental school, get into a dental school, and may make your dental school courses slightly easier.[3]
    • Meet with a pre-health or dental advisor to make sure you’re on the right track to apply for dental school.[4]
    • Think about shadowing a dentist or periodontist as you work towards your bachelor’s degree. This can give you some experience and exposure with periodontists. If you do well, you may even get a recommendation letter for dental school from him or her.
    • Start considering dental schools you’d like to attend before your senior year and before you sit the DAT exam.
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    Take the DAT. The Dental Admission Test, or DAT, is an exam that you must take and pass before you apply to dental school. You should take the DAT either in the sophomore or junior year of your undergraduate studies.[5]
    • Fill out the online application to take the DAT, which is done at a Prometric Test Center. Within three business days of applying, you should receive an email notifying you of your eligibility to sit the exam. It will also contain information on scheduling your exam. You should do this 60-90 days before the test date you want.
    • Have the Department of Testing Services send your scores to one of the centralized dental school application services (ADEA, AADSAS, TMSAS) as well as any dental schools to which you are applying. Make sure you keep a copy of your unofficial score report for your applications.
    • Review different study aids for the DAT at
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    Apply to dental school. Your senior year of undergrad or later, submit applications to dental schools. Make sure to apply to a variety of different schools so that your chances of being accepted are higher. Have a list that includes three levels of institutions to which you would attend. Having a list of “safety” dental programs that you know you can get into is useful if your top and/ or mid-level choices don’t work out.[6]
    • Submit your applications to one or more of the centralized dental school application services (ADEA, AADSAS, TMSAS). Make sure to check your applications for errors before you submit them. Check that all of the required transcripts and documents are also attached.

Part 2
Pursuing a Residency in Periodontology

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    Graduate from dental school. Dental school is very competitive. It takes four additional years of education after your bachelor’s degree to obtain a doctorate in dentistry.[7] These four years generally consist of classroom and lab work. The final two years, you’ll do clinical work that involves the treatment of actual patients. Use your time in dental school to study and excel so that you can apply to residencies in periodontics.[8]
    • Take any opportunities you can to get more experience and work with a practicing periodontist.[9]
    • Maintain high grades and test scores, which can help you get one of the coveted spots in a periodontic program.
    • Make sure you meet the expected competencies for periodontics before you graduate from dental school. These include things such as understanding and diagnosing periodontal diseases and developing treatment for a patient.[10] You can find further information and documentation about competencies at
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    Obtain your initial dental licensure. In order to pursue a residency and career in periodontics, you must have the initial dental licensure. This requires taking and excelling at the National Board Dental Examinations (NBDE), which test your knowledge of the basic sciences and clinical dentistry.[11]
    • Recognize that the NBDE are generally taken in two parts. The first part is taken after your first or second year of dental school. It addresses the basic sciences including anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology, and dental anatomy. The second part is generally taken the third or fourth year of dental school. This part focuses on clinical dentistry including: operative dentistry, pharmacology, oral surgery, orthodontists, periodontics, patient management. Both exams have 400 questions that you must complete within 7 hours on the first day, and 100 case-based questions that you must complete within 3 ½ hours on the second day.
    • Familiarize yourself with the NBDE candidate guide and obtain permission to take the exam.
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    Pursue a residency in periodontology. During your final year of dental school, apply for a residency in periodontology. Residencies usually last 30-36 months. You can pursue your residency at a university, in a hospital, or another medical facility. Be prepare to face stiff competition for a spot because there are only a few spaces for periodontal residents.[12]
    • Recognize that the American Academy of Periodontology recommends that programs accept individuals with a class standing in the upper 50 percent and National Board scores in at least the 80th percentile. Some schools may also require GRE scores above 1000.
    • Use your residency to hone your dental skills. You’ll also learn more about how gum and bone diseases develop, their relationships to other diseases, and surgical techniques. Your residency may also allow you to participate in clinical trials of new therapies, too.[13]
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    Become Board certified. As your residency nears its end, you have the option to become certified by the American Board of Periodontology. Taking and passing the exam is a sign of your excellence as a periodontist and is a way to attract patients.[14]
    • Be aware that to get your certification you must have obtained an unencumbered dental license, finished a periodontics education program per Board’s regulations, and passed the board exams.
    • Study for the exam as much as you can. The multiple choice exam will ask questions about a broad range of information related to periodontology.[15]
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    Maintain your board certification. Your initial board certification will last for 6 years. After this, you must meet the renewal requirements to keep it up to date. If you don’t you’ll be required to retake the board certification exam.
    • Fulfill the requirements by completing a self assessment called the Self-Study Recertification Program and completing at least 60 points of continuing education credit.[16]

Part 3
Working as a Periodontist

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    Search for jobs. There is a diverse array of careers in periodontology. These include private and public clinical practice, academics, administration, and research.[17] You could early anywhere between $120,000 and $240,000 per year in one of these jobs.[18] If there is one particular area in which you’d like to practice, focus your job search on these jobs. Consider putting an application or two into other types of work as a safety net.
    • Speak to your residency colleagues and mentors about potential job opportunities. If a career counselor is available, use these services to give you some ideas about where to apply.
    • Look for job opportunities in the classified ads of professional periodontology associations such as the American Academy of Periodontology.[19]
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    Market yourself for professional positions. You may not want to go into practice or be in administration or research. There are many options for periodontists in hospitals and other medical facilities, private practices, or at large biomedical organizations which conduct research in your field.[20]
    • Find ads for professional positions in newspapers, academic journals, professional recruiting sites. Consulting a headhunter may also help you find job opportunities.
    • Compose letters of interest for opportunities at places that interest you. Request an informational interview, which can give you information on qualifications the institution seeks in employees and the working environment.
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    Set up your own practice. Instead of getting a job for a larger practice or facility, you may consider setting up your own practice. This may allow you more freedom over your schedule and the types and numbers of patients you accept. Talk to other periodontists who have their own practices. Ask questions about setting up a private office as well as the advantages and disadvantages of it.[21]
    • Recognize that it can be expensive to start your own practice. It may take a few years to build up your client base to recoup your investment.
    • Minimize potential headaches by planning your practice well in advance. You’ll need licenses and other certifications to open a business. Developing a business plan that follows “CREPT” may help you attract investors. CREPT stands for: capacity, revenue, expense management, patient service, and team (yours). You should also set short- and long term goals for your practice.
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    Seek out academic jobs. Perhaps you prefer to work as an academic periodontist at a university. This would allow you to teach, pursue research, and even do clinical work. Competition for academic jobs can be strong. Consider applying to several academic positions in periodontology that interest you.
    • Search the websites or publications of professional periodontist associations. These often have classified ads for jobs in academic periodontology. Professional journals may also have ads for open positions at universities.
    • Check with online listservs for academics to see what positions are available in periodontology.
    • Make sure you submit any information requested by the job advertisement. You may need a cover letter, CV, and copies of transcripts, licenses and certifications.
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    Network with other periodontists. Meeting with fellow periodontists or dentists may also provide job opportunities. Even if a position isn’t immediately available, people may remember you are looking for a job and contact you. Participate in conferences, attend local seminars and continuing education courses, and join professional organizations to network with other periodontists.
    • Set up a regular meeting with other periodontists in your area. This can help all of you stay on top of current research and trade information on open positions.

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