I’ve been referred to a dental specialist. What is the difference between a specialist and a general dentist?

I’ve been referred to a dental specialist. What is the difference between a specialist and a general dentist?

On March 11th, 2014, posted in: Dental Education for Patients by

The typical training to be a dentist involves 4 years of college followed by 4 years of dental school. We take 2 national written board examinations. The first tests you on basic science and the science of the human body- these are things like biochemistry, anatomy, etc. The second board has more specific questions about dentistry. There is then a clinical board exam- we work on patients and our clinical skills are evaluated. You also have to take a test about the laws and the ethics of being a dentist that is specific for each state that you live in. After surviving the very intense years of school and passing the exams, you can apply for a license to be a General Dentist.

If you would like to be a General Dentist but you would like some additional training in certain areas, there are 2 residency options: a General Practice Residency (GPR) and an Advanced Education in General Dentistry Residency (AEGD). In our practice, Dr. Avery completed a GPR that involved hospital and operating room training as well as working with patients with special needs like severe autism. Both of our dentists chose to be General Dentists because they like the variety of different types of dental procedures, and they like seeing the same patients regularly and getting to know them.

Some dentists choose to go to school beyond dental school in order to become a Dental Specialist. There are 9 specialties of dentistry. Their official definitions of each are listed below and copied from the American Dental Association website.

Basically, a specialist has additional years of training in one area. An orthodontist, for example, has additional training in moving teeth, in the alignment of teeth, in treating patients with braces, etc. And as an orthodontist, he or she focuses on that type of treatment and no longer does fillings or makes dentures. We will refer you to see a specialist if your situation requires the expertise of someone that focuses on and has a deeper understanding of that area of dentistry. If you have a complicated root canal, we might refer you to an Endodontist. If your child has complex treatment needs or needs to be sedated for dental treatment, we will refer him or her to a Pedodontist.

We have relationships with Dental Specialists in the community whom we trust to provide you with excellent care. Often, we work closely with them on Interdisciplinary Cases- this is when a patient has treatment that requires the expertise of a number of practitioners. We stay in close communication with the specialists that we work with.

Please let us know if you have any further questions about dental referrals.

Dental Public Health: Dental public health is the science and art of preventing and controlling dental diseases and promoting dental health through organized community efforts. It is that form of dental practice which serves the community as a patient rather than the individual. It is concerned with the dental health education of the public, with applied dental research, and with the administration of group dental care programs as well as the prevention and control of dental diseases on a community basis. (Adopted May 1976)

Endodontics: Endodontics is the branch of dentistry which is concerned with the morphology, physiology and pathology of the human dental pulp and periradicular tissues. Its study and practice encompass the basic and clinical sciences including biology of the normal pulp, the etiology, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases and injuries of the pulp and associated periradicular conditions. (Adopted December 1983)

Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology: Oral pathology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of pathology that deals with the nature, identification, and management of diseases affecting the oral and maxillofacial regions. It is a science that investigates the causes, processes, and effects of these diseases. The practice of oral pathology includes research and diagnosis of diseases using clinical, radiographic, microscopic, biochemical, or other examinations. (Adopted May 1991)

Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology: Oral and maxillofacial radiology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of radiology concerned with the production and interpretation of images and data produced by all modalities of radiant energy that are used for the diagnosis and management of diseases, disorders and conditions of the oral and maxillofacial region. (Adopted April 2001)

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery: Oral and maxillofacial surgery is the specialty of dentistry which includes the diagnosis, surgical and adjunctive treatment of diseases, injuries and defects involving both the functional and esthetic aspects of the hard and soft tissues of the oral and maxillofacial region. (Adopted October 1990)

Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics: Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics is the dental specialty that includes the diagnosis, prevention, interception, and correction of malocclusion, as well as neuromuscular and skeletal abnormalities of the developing or mature orofacial structures. (Adopted April 2003)

Pediatric Dentistry: Pediatric Dentistry is an age-defined specialty that provides both primary and comprehensive preventive and therapeutic oral health care for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health care needs. (Adopted 1995)

Periodontics: Periodontics is that specialty of dentistry which encompasses the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth or their substitutes and the maintenance of the health, function and esthetics of these structures and tissues. (Adopted December 1992)

Prosthodontics: Prosthodontics is the dental specialty pertaining to the diagnosis, treatment planning, rehabilitation and maintenance of the oral function, comfort, appearance and health of patients with clinical conditions associated with missing or deficient teeth and/or oral and maxillofacial tissues using biocompatible substitutes. (Adopted April 2003)