Not sure of the difference between an endodontist and an orthodontist? Don’t know whether you need a periodontist, a prosthodontist or a pedodontist? Many different types of oral healthcare providers could become involved in the care of your teeth, gums, and mouth. It is important to understand what their role is and how they help improve your oral health. Here is a brief description of the various dental specialists and what they do:

General Dentist
A general dentist is your primary care dental provider. This dentist diagnoses, treats, and manages your overall oral health care needs, including gum care, root canals, fillings, crowns, veneers, bridges, and preventive education. All practicing general dentists have earned either a DDS or DMD degree (Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Medicine). There is no difference between the two degrees or the curriculum requirements that dentists must meet. Some schools simply award one of the two degrees. Generally, three or more years of undergraduate education plus four years of dental school is required to become a general dentist. Additional post-graduate training is required to become a dental specialist.

An endodontist is the dental specialist concerned with the causes, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases and injuries of the human dental pulp or the nerve of the tooth. An endodontist will work to cure these problems and save your teeth. This specialist may perform simple to difficult root canal treatments or other types of surgical root procedures. Endodontists must take an additional two to three years of specialized study beyond dental school, and participate in continuing education to stay current in their field.

Oral/Maxillofacial Radiologist
A radiologist is the oral health care provider who specializes in the capture and interpretation of all types of X-ray images and data that are used in the diagnosis and management of diseases, disorders, and conditions of the oral and maxillofacial region.

Oral/Maxillofacial Surgeon
An oral and maxillofacial surgeon performs many types of surgical procedures in and about the entire face, mouth, and jaw area. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons treat accident victims who suffer facial injuries and offer reconstructive and dental implant surgery. They treat patients with tumors and cysts of the jaws. They also place dental implants. The types of surgeries an oral surgeon may perform include: simple tooth extractions, complex extractions involving removal of soft tissue or overlying bone or remaining roots, impacted teeth (especially wisdom teeth) removal, soft tissue biopsies, removal of tumors in the oral cavity, implant positioning, complex jaw realignment surgeries involving facial or bite discrepancies, fractured cheek or jaw bone repair and soft tissue (cleft palate or lip) repair. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons receive anywhere from four to eight years of additional training after dental school.

Oral Pathologist
An oral pathologist is the oral health care provider who studies the causes of diseases that alter or affect the oral structures (teeth, lips, cheeks, jaws) as well as parts of the face and neck. Oral pathologists examine and provide a diagnosis of the biopsy, tissue, or lesion sent to them by other oral health care providers.

An orthodontist specializes in straightening teeth to improve your tooth alignment and bite. They diagnose, prevent, intercept, and treat malocclusions, or “bad bites,” of the teeth and surrounding structures. Malocclusions can result from crowded, missing, or extra teeth or jaws that are out of alignment. This specialist is responsible for straightening teeth by moving them through bone. This is done mostly through the use of braces and retainers. Teeth can be straightened at any age. It is most common to do so in the early teen years, but modern innovations in braces, including clear plastic, accelerated orthodontics and Invisalign™, have made teeth straightening popular with adults.

A pedodontist is the oral health care provider who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of the dental problems of children from the toddler stage, to early adulthood. This dentist can detect, treat, or refer (as needed) problems with decayed, missing, crowded, or crooked teeth. A pediatric dentist has at least two additional years of training beyond dental school. The additional training focuses on management and treatment of a child’s developing teeth, child behavior, physical growth and development, and the special needs of children’s dentistry.

A periodontist specializes in diagnosing, treating, and preventing diseases of the soft tissues of the mouth (the gums) and the supporting structures (bones) of the teeth. This dentist diagnoses and treats gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) as well as periodontitis (gum and bone disease). A periodontist may perform the following procedures: simple and deep pocket cleanings, root planing, crown lengthening procedures, soft tissue and/or bone grafting, gingival or flap procedures, soft tissue recontouring or removal, hard tissue recontouring, and implant placement. Becoming a periodontist requires another two years of advanced study after completing dental school.

Prosthodontists specialize in fixing or replacing teeth on a much larger scale than the general dentist. The prosthodontist uses artificial teeth (dentures), gold crowns (caps), or ceramic crowns and veneers to replace the missing or extracted teeth. The prosthodontist is also very involved in the replacement of teeth using dental implants.

Do you have any questions about the different dental specialties? Call Westermeier Martin Dental care to schedule an appointment with your dentist 716-508-4547.