When you think of dentistry, you may imagine your family dental office where you regularly go for teeth cleanings and checkups. But, the profession expands much farther than this and your general dentist is just one speciality in the field. Curious about what other types of dentists there are? You’ve come to the right place.
In general, there are seven types of dentists:
A general dentist is also known as a family dentist and takes care of your oral health on a regular basis. This is the most common type of dentist and the majority of their work revolves around important preventative oral care. This includes regular dental cleanings, dental X-rays, and educating patients about proper at-home oral care. General dentists are also responsible for restorative oral care such as treating tooth decay by replacing it with artificial fillings, repairing cracked, chipped, or missing teeth, and whitening services. They also treat oral issues caused by gum disease and root issues below the gumline. Your general dentist can also help guide you down the path of getting braces, false teeth, mouth guards, and other treatments. Because your general dentist is the health care practitioner you likely see the most, they are also monitoring the health of your mouth, neck, and head so ensure there are no issues.
After reviewing the types of dentists who can see either adults or children, a pediatric dentist or periodontist is a type of dentist who treats mainly children. As anyone who has kids knows, children usually have increased anxiety when visiting any types of dentists and need some extra care. Some general dentists do not see children in their office and will refer to a pedodontist. We treat children in our office for routine cleanings, x-rays, white fillings and extractions. When we see a child who has special needs and cannot be treated in a general dentist office, we will refer them to the pedodontist. The child can be mildly sedated and the work will be completed safely there.
You may know orthodontists as the ones who install braces, but their care extends much farther beyond that. Generally speaking, orthodontists are concerned with righting misaligned teeth, jaw bones, and other supporting facial structures for both cosmetic and functional reasons. This means they work to improve people’s bites by designing custom oral hardware such as braces, clear dental alignment trays, mouthguards, headgear, retainers, and facemasks that correct developmental issues. All of these devices work over time to improve bone structure that may be deformed and teeth that have spacing issues.
Gums are the focus of periodontistry, and periodontists are concerned with preventing, diagnosing, and treating various gum issues. This can include treating extreme gum inflammation and pain, diagnosing and treating extreme gum disease (also known as periodontal disease), installing dental implants, and performing cosmetic skin grafting on gums. Generally speaking, anything that involves extensive work to be done on gums is when a periodontist gets involved. Treating gum disease is a very large part of periodontistry and thus periodontists often advise general dentists on prevention and treatment plans that will work with the lifestyles of patients.
The inner part of the tooth, which is protected by the tooth’s hard enamel and inner layer of dentin, is found below the gumline and is known as the pulp. It is soft and made up of sensitive living tissue and is the part of the tooth that endodontists focus on. The pulp of the tooth can become damaged, inflamed, or rotten through injury, trauma, or decay and thus needs to be treated or removed. If it can be treated and preserved, this keeps the tooth alive in the patient’s mouth. But if it cannot be preserved, the required treatment is known as a root canal, which is probably the most common procedure performed by endodontists in their profession.
An oral and maxillofacial surgeon is best known for wisdom tooth extractions. This is an important treatment, but oral surgeons do much more than this. Generally wisdom teeth do not have the room that they need to erupt and come into place as the last teeth in the mouth on the upper and the lower arches. If they are allowed to remain they can crowd your teeth, cause infection or even damage other teeth or bone in your mouth. They can be fully impacted, which means that they are covered by the bone and the gums, partially impacted or fully erupted in the mouth. Generally if teeth are impacted, a more involved surgery would be needed to remove them. Oral surgeons now have operating rooms set up in their offices instead of using a hospital like when I was a teenager. Oral surgeons also perform extractions anywhere needed in the mouth, corrective jaw surgery to better align misaligned jaws, facial trauma surgery in accident cases, biopsies on suspicious areas in the mouth, bone grafts and implant procedures, and TMD surgeries.
A prosthodontist is a dental specialist who makes prostheses, or replacement teeth that are removable or non-removable for patients who are missing some or all of their teeth. These include porcelain crowns and bridges, partial dentures and full dentures. Most general dentists do all of these procedures and some dentists, like in our office, have advanced training and do larger cases as well involving implants or natural teeth. Prosthodontists also build specialized dentures for patients who have lost part of their jaw due to accidents, cancer or physical defects.