When people think of dental care professionals, a general dentist is usually what comes to mind. General dentists are like primary care physicians; they help with preventative dental care by performing routine cleanings, fixing chipped and cracked teeth, applying sealants and filling cavities. They can also help with the diagnosis and treatment of a number of dental issues. However, the mouth is a very complicated organ, and certain oral health issues require specific treatments and procedures that only a specialist can carry out.
There are different types of dental specialists, and it can be hard to determine which specialist is right for your needs. To make things easier, here is a list of some of the common types of dental specialists, what they do and when you need to see them.
Periodontists (Gum Specialists)
Periodontists are dental specialists who specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of gum disease. Periodontitis (or severe gum disease) occurs when bacteria build up beneath the gum line and start to attack the roots of the teeth. It is one of the leading causes of tooth loss.
By using a range of surgical (deep pocket cleaning, gum and bone grafts, and flap procedures) and non-surgical procedures (antibiotics, scaling and root planing), a periodontist can help treat your gum disease and ensure that your gums and other supporting structures of your teeth remain healthy and free from bacteria.
Gum disease is often painless, so many people don't realise that they have it. However, there are signs that you should be on the lookout for. Those signs include; excessive bleeding when flossing, swollen and tender gums, receding gums and deep pockets forming on the gums. It is important that you make an appointment with a periodontist as soon as you notice these signs.
Orthodontists (Alignment Specialists)
Orthodontists are specialists who work to diagnose and treat malocclusions (misalignment of teeth and bite). The different types of malocclusions that orthodontists fix include; overbites, crooked teeth, crossbites, underbites, overcrowding, spacing, overjet, diastema, impacted teeth and missing teeth.
In addition to making you self-conscious about your smile, malocclusions can lead to a number of oral health concerns, such as chewing and biting difficulties, frequent headaches, TMJ pain and difficulties with brushing and flossing.
Orthodontists can fix malocclusions by using different orthodontic appliances such as; braces, implants, clear aligners (Invisalign), rubber bands, and retainers. In rare cases, a teeth extraction and the use of headgear may be required to fix malocclusions.
If your crooked and misaligned teeth are a course for concern, then an orthodontist is the specialist for you.
Endodontists (Root Canal Specialists)
Endodontists specialise in the treatment of issues associated with the teeth's pulp (the soft interior of the teeth). It is the pulp of your teeth that enables you to detect changes in temperature and feel pressure (or pain) with your teeth. It is made up of blood vessels, nerves and connective tissues.
When this pulp gets infected with bacteria, an endodontist works to save the structure of the infected tooth by performing a root canal procedure. In cases where the infection is too far gone, the endodontist will most likely carry out a tooth extraction.
If you're experiencing a toothache that is persistent, make an appointment with your general dentist. If an infected pulp is the culprit, your general dentist may be able to treat the infection. However, if the case is more complicated, they will refer you to an endodontist.
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon
This is the type of dental specialist that treats issues related to the soft and hard tissues of the mouth, jaw, and face. This type of dental specialist isn't needed for every kind of oral surgery. They are trained to perform procedures that are more complex, often requiring the use of deep levels of sedation (beyond nitrous oxide or laughing gas). Some of the specialised procedures oral surgeons perform include; corrective jaw surgery, cleft palate (cleft lip) surgery and complex tooth extractions.
Pediatric Dentist (Pedodontist)
A pediatric dentist is a dentist that specialises in treating children and adolescents. Pedodontists offer the same basic services that a general dentist does but for children. They use kid-friendly equipment to carry out dental exams and treatments. Another part of their job is to help children feel safe and at ease during dental exams. They do this by creating a fun and child-friendly environment for their young patients.
These professionals specialise in performing complex tooth replacement procedures for both restorative and aesthetic purposes. They are the type of specialists you go to when you need dental crowns, dentures, fixed bridges, porcelain veneers and implants. They help patients replace missing teeth, provide denture repair and improve jaw structures for optimal function and cosmetic appeal.
These dentists carry out cosmetic dentistry procedures to help patients improve the appearance of their smiles. Some of the procedures they perform include; teeth whitening, dental implants, veneers, clear aligners and crowns.
It can be quite confusing to navigate the difference between the various types of dental specialists. Hopefully, the guide above helps you better understand what each type of dental specialist does. If you're still unsure about the type of specialist you need, talk to your general dentists and have them refer you to the right one.