A Handy Guide to What Dental Specialists Do
How much do you know about the various types dental specialists? You see the dentist twice a year for a cleaning, a standard exam, and the occasional filling. That much we know. (Or should know.) It starts to get a little confusing when dental specialists enter the frame. For one, how many are there? And, what’s an endodontist even do?
I’ll answer both questions in this blog post. To start, you’d need to see a dental specialist if you developed an oral health issue that can’t be adequately resolved by your dentist. It could be the result of an accident, heredity, your overall health, or some other reason entirely.
It may help to think of your dentist as your primary care dental provider, just like your family doctor is your primary care medical provider. Your dentist will diagnose and treat most of your oral health care concerns. Should something come up that requires another degree of expertise, your dentist will refer you to a specialist but continue to monitor and manage your oral health care.
Dental specialists are basically dentists who receive additional, specialized training after dental school. Every practicing dentist has earned either a DDS or DMD degree. (There’s no difference between them. Some schools just award one, while others award the other.) Dental school is four years—on top of an undergraduate degree. The amount of post-graduate training to become a specialist varies from specialty to specialty.
Currently, there are 10 dental specialties recognized by the National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards. Each has its own national certifying board that ensures its specialists adhere to certain standards, just as cardiologists, gastroenterologists, and every other kind of medical doctor does.
Here’s a closer look at the dental specialists you’re most likely to see over the course of your lifetime.
Orthodontists correct alignment issues, or malocclusions: overbites, underbites, crossbites. Malocclusions can result from crowded, missing, or extra teeth or jaws that are out of alignment. Typically, patients are referred to an orthodontist by their pediatric dentist. The condition may be treated using braces, clear aligners, palatal expanders, or headgear, each of which straightens the teeth by moving them through the underlying bone.
While our teeth may appear to be solid, they’re actually laced with countless, tiny passages called canals that contain sensitive living tissue (pulp), blood vessels, and nerves. Endodontists specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases and injuries of the dental pulp or the nerves of the teeth. They do simple to complex root canals and other types of surgical root procedures.
Hopefully, a smile comes effortlessly for you. But there’s a lot that goes into it. Prosthodontists, who restore and replace lost or damaged teeth, have a unique understanding of both the aesthetics and dynamics of a natural-looking smile. Their treatments include crowns, bridges, and dentures. Prosthodontists, along with periodontists, also perform reconstruction following oral cancer treatment and traumatic mouth injuries. And they can correct jaw joint problems and snoring and sleep disorders.
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon
An oral and maxillofacial surgeon performs a spectrum of surgeries the can include the mouth, jaw, and the entire face. They range from simple tooth extractions, to the removal of impacted teeth (especially wisdom teeth), to fractured cheek or jaw repair, to the removal of tumors and cysts from the jaw. Generally, however, oral and maxillofacial surgeons perform the most complex surgical procedures or the ones that require the deepest levels of sedation. They receive anywhere from four to eight years of additional training following dental school.
Periodontists specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of gum disease (which affects half of adult population in the United States) and oral inflammation. With a range of surgical procedures within their ability, periodontists often treat patients with the most severe gum problems. Though, they also offer a wide range of treatments for common issues, including scaling and root planing, in which the infected surface of a tooth root is cleaned, and root surface debridement, where damaged gum tissue is removed.
That’s who we are in broad strokes. As for me, I opened my practice here in Princeton in 1989. I’ve performed over 8,000 dental implant procedures during the last 30 years. I’m certified with the American Board of Oral Implantology/Implant Dentistry. And, recently, I was awarded a Fellowship by the American Academy of Implant Dentistry.
More important than the credentials, however, is how I treat my patients. I don’t know anyone who isn’t at least a little anxious sitting in a dentist’s chair. I’m responsible for dispelling those fears. To that end, familiarity is the foundation of every treatment I perform, no matter how straightforward or involved. After all, familiarity breeds comfort.
If you’re looking for a periodontist, or it’s been a while since you’ve seen a dentist, schedule an appointment with me. At our consultation, I’ll conduct a Comprehensive Periodontal Evaluation so that we can get you back to smiling with confidence as soon as you’re ready.