Last Updated on December 10, 2020
Everyone knows what a dentist is and has an idea of what they do in the broadest sense, but did you know there are actually a wide range of dental specializations out there?
Depending on the issue you’re having, seeing a particular specialist could mean the difference between saving a tooth, getting top-quality implants, or simple prevention.
Sometimes different specialists overlap slightly in their abilities. A good example is installing crowns, which may be performed by several different specialists that have shared training in these common prosthetics.
So without further ado, here are nine different types of dentist you might encounter.
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Types of Dentists
1. Dental Anesthesiologist
Anesthesiologists must complete three additional years of study. They’re skilled in both local and general anesthesia. Whether you need a bit of novocaine or to be completely knocked out for major surgery, the dental anesthesiologist has you covered.
These dentists specialize in the pulp and soft tissues inside your teeth. The pulp is living tissue and very sensitive. Trauma to the tooth may result in the pulp becoming swollen, infected, or even begin to rot.
An endodontist is able to treat damaged pulp and have an additional 2-3 years of training in pulp-related disease and treatment methods. You’ll most likely visit an endodontist when you need a root canal or are trying to save a tooth that’s infected or was knocked out.
3. General Dentist
An office of general dentistry is where you’ll spend most of your time. General dentists are practitioners who specialize in prevention. They’ll clean your teeth, check for signs of decay, and keep your mouth healthy.
In the event of a major problem, they’ll usually refer you a specialist qualified for the job, although they can perform some minor procedures themselves, such as fillings.
Besides making up a large percentage of dentists at a given dental office, general dentists are often found in free clinic and other low-income friendly facilities.
Due to their more limited training, this means you might have to get a tooth extracted when a specialist might be able to save it, but their services are welcome for those with no insurance or very low income. General practitioners are also found in most institutional medical facilities, such as public schools and prisons.
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4. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon
These professionals have extensive surgical training, allowing them to work on every part of the mouth and surrounding facial tissue. Some procedures handled by these surgical specialists are cleft palate or lip surgeries, reconstruction, preparation for implants, or removing oral cancer and deep infections.
Oral surgeons focus on the more minor aspects of oral surgery, such as removing wisdom teeth and impacted teeth. Meanwhile, maxillofacial (meaning the jaws and face) surgeons perform many of their surgeries on the exterior of the mouth or deal with repairing a damaged jawbone.
5. Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologist
While most dentists can perform a basic X-ray, there are times when a specialist is needed to obtain more detailed information. These radiologists use more advanced imaging methods, such as CT scans, to get a clear idea of what’s going on in and around your mouth.
They can help diagnose forms of oral cancer, map out nerves, and help create a plan of action for more involved form of oral surgery. While you’re far less likely to encounter these specialists than other types of dentist, they’re a vital part of the team when getting major work done.
An orthodontist has special training in repairing or maintaining proper alignment of the teeth and jaws. This may require the use of braces, retainers, or similar devices. In some extreme cases, the mouth may need wiring or other surgical remedies.
Also referred to as a pediatric dentist, these are general practitioners who specialize in treating children. This extends to the unique qualities of milk (baby) teeth, as well as skills in handling the temperaments of children and making their trip as calm and pleasant as possible.
When gingivitis and other gum disease passes the point of a general dentist’s skills, they’ll refer you to a periodontist. These specialists are able to treat damaged gums and advanced gum disease (also known as periodontal disease).
Treatments may require cutting into the gums or similar surgical procedures in more extreme cases of abscess or similar infections. Periodontists are also consulted frequently by general practitioners to set up custom prevention plans for a patient’s lifestyle.
These are the cosmetic surgeons of the dentistry world. This may be as simple as tooth whitening or veneers. In cases of tooth decay or loss, they’re also able to fit patients with crowns, bridges, or dentures.
A prosthodontist often works closely with labs which develop dental implants to achieve a perfect fit for the patient. Tooth implants from these specialists are indistinguishable from healthy teeth and are even tinted to match nearby teeth.
While a prosthodontist may be hired for cosmetic reasons, they truly shine when traumatic reconstruction becomes necessary.