How to choose the right dentist from so many dental specialties ? Do I need a general dentist or a specialist ? In order to help you make the right decision we decided to list and describe below the nine dentistry specialties recognized by ADA.
When you go to your family dentist, in most cases he or she is a general dentist. It means that he or she got the dental degree of DMD or DDS after completing four years of postgraduate dental school.
The difference between general dentists and specialists is that the firsts received a more general knowledge in all dentistry areas while specialists, in addition, have more knowledge in the dental specialty they chose to focus on spending two to six more years in education.
The following dental specialties are recognized by ADA – American Dental Association – .
Dental Public Health
Dental Public Health (DPH) is the dentistry specialty that focus on preventing and controlling dental and gums diseases and promoting dental health through federal or government sponsored programs.
In other words, unlike dentists, public health dentists do not treat patients in the dental office but they research and educate communities to adopt better oral health practices.
There are many different ways public health dentists do their activity: the most known is visiting to schools to show children how to proper tooth-brushing. The scope of these schools visits was and is intended to reach parents and relatives (general public).
Government programs involve public health dentists in televised dental health education programs, oral hygiene training videos and web-apps.
Public health dentists also teach dentists and dental hygienists about dental goals of federal programs.
The word endodontics come from the Greek endo “inside” and odont “tooth” that’s why endodontics is the dental specialty that focus on the study and treatment of the dental pulp (made of blood vessels and odontoblast cells that can produce dentin) The pulp is the alive part of each tooth.
The most common treatment performed by endodontists is the endodontic therapy or root canal treatment. It is a treatment for the infected pulp of a tooth which results in the elimination of infection.
There are additional cases where an endodontist can be required such as: tooth abscess or infection treatment, oral surgery, treating cracked teeth, and treating dental trauma in order to save the tooth.
In addition, endodontists use microscopes during treatment to better see the small internal anatomy of teeth and to avoid to take away too much tooth structure. Also, endodontists use CBCT (3D imaging) for diagnosis and treatment planning of endodontic cases
Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
Maxillofacial pathology is the dentistry specialty that deals with diseases within and around your mouth, also known as “oral cavity”.
Oral pathologists diagnose and study the causes and effects of diseases affecting the oral and maxillofacial region such as: . mouth, jaws and orofacial skin.
Oral pathologists often work side by side with oral and maxillofacial surgeons in the oral medicine field.
Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology is the most new of the nine dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association. In the last years dental radiology has made giant steps; dental panoramic radiology, intra-oral imaging are no more the only instruments that help dentist to discover oral problems and plan related treatments. An maxillofacial radiologist is a qualified professional viewing radiographs and interpreting them.
Instruments used by oral and maxillofacial radiology are: cone beam CT, 3D DENTALSCAN, ultrasound scan, cephalometric imaging, intra-oral imaging (e.g. Bitewing, peri-apical and occlusal radiographs). Oral Radiology was added to the dentistry specialties in 2003.
Oral and maxillofacial surgery
The most know treatment practiced by an oral surgeon is the wisdom teeth extraction especially when they are impacted (partially or totally covered by the gums). In this case general dentists prefer to address you to an oral surgeon because the eight molars extraction can lead to risks that may involve you facial structure.
Oral and maxillofacial surgery is the dentistry specialty that trains dentist in many other different dental treatments. They can perform bone graft after teeth extraction or to create the base for dental implants.
Oral surgeons are also specialized in: IV sedation, facial trauma surgery, corrective Jaw surgery and any additional dental-facial-procedure that requires hospitalization. They are also involved in dental implants procedure.
Oral and maxillofacial surgery is recognized as both a specialty of medicine and dentistry.
Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
We all know braces for kids; well, orthodontists are famous for this type of dental treatment but there is much more under the hood.
Orthodontics, also called, Orthodontia, is the dentistry specialty that deals with the treatment of improper bites and crooked teeth. A bite occurs when upper and lower teeth come together. Bad bite or malocclusions indicates a situations in which the upper and lower teeth come together in misaligned way causing teeth damage as well as additional structural problems (jaw and neck pain or back muscles problems). Misaligned teeth also have a negative impact in social relationships
Orthodontists have different tools to correct you’re the alignment of the teeth. As mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph:
- braces either for kids and for adults;
- clear braces
Pediatric Dentistry or Pedodontics
To become a pediatric specialist a general dentist needs a post-graduated specific education as well as a particular attitude to deal with children because of their young age. A pedodontist is a dentist and a psychologist at the same time.
Pediatric dentistry is a particular branch of dentistry focused on children from birth through adolescence (usually 16/18 years hold).
Pediatric dentists are following two different goals: the first and the most important is to promote the dental health teaching children how to take care of their teeth and gums and serving as educational resources for parents. The second goal is providing specific dental treatments such as:
- Preventing oral diseases (affecting teeth or gums ).
- Promoting oral health such as cleanings and fluoride treatments and disease prevention.
- Setting treatment plans in order to keep or restore the oral health of their patients.
- Evaluating x-rays and other diagnostic tests.
- Checking the safe administration of anesthetics.
- Monitoring growth and development of the teeth and jaws.
- Treating or filing tooth decays.
- Fixing dental injuries, fractured roots and displaced or knocked out teeth
The word periodontics comes from Greek and means around the tooth. So periodontology or periodontics is the dentistry specialty that focuses on the mouth structures that keep each tooth in place. They are: gums, alveolar bone (the hole in your jaw that houses the tooth), cementum, and the periodontal ligaments. The dentist who practices this specialty is commonly called periodontist. The most known periodontics procedures are those to treat gum disease such as gingivitis and periodontitis avoiding the early tooth loss.
A periodontist is also involved in case of severe gum abscess or infection with pus boil.
Prosthodontics or prosthetic dentistry is one of nine dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association (ADA) and it is directly connected with dental prosthesis in general.
When a person is missing one or more teeth the mouth functionalities and aesthetics are compromised. The patient cannot speech or eat well and he or she doesn’t feel comfortable with his or her appearance.
In order to replace both, functionality and aesthetic, a prosthodontist can plan the right treatment or rehabilitation of the oral function using biocompatible substitutes such as: dental crown, bridge, partial dental prosthesis or full dentures or even immediate dentures.
Most general dentists do all of these procedures as well but when they are in front of difficult cases they prefer to ask prosthodontists advices (flexible dentures made of nylon)
Since prosthesis can be dental implants retained, prosthodontists can be also involved in the restoration treatment.
Cosmetic dentistry and Implant dentistry are dental specialties too ?
Cosmetic dentistry and Implant dentistry or implantology are not recognized dental specialties, they do not imply specialization or even expertise. When you read: “specialized in cosmetic dentistry or dental implants placement” it is more for marketing purposes than real specializations. Rumors report that ADA is planning to include implant dentistry in the recognized dental specialties list due to the complexity of the branch.