What is General Dentistry?
By definition, dentistry is the evaluation, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases and conditions of the body’s oral and maxillofacial region (ADA, American Dental Association). The most common dental care providers are general dentists, who make up about 80 percent of practitioners. The other 20 percent, however, consists of dental specialists, including:
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
- Pediatric Dentistry
- Dental Public Health
- Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
General dentists offer preventive and restorative services, such as x-rays, teeth cleanings, cavity fillings, and sealants. Unlike specialists, who focus on one specific area of dentistry, general dentists offer a wide range of treatments and procedures. They also treat patients of all ages.
Dental specialists, such as endodontists, are highly skilled at performing and treating tooth pain, specifically root canals. Some patients visit a general dentist to receive a root canal, while others may see an endodontist if their situation requires specialized root canal treatment.
Many general dentists also use a combination of specialized care, including oral surgery, restorative services, and basic dental care treatments. For example, common treatments include:
- Cavity fillings
- Teeth cleanings
- Sleep apnea treatment
- Gum disease treatment
- Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) treatment
- Root canals
- Oral cancer screenings
- Tooth decay prevention
- Cosmetic dental procedures
- Minor oral surgeries, such as wisdom tooth removal and extractions
Qualifications of General Dentists
Dentistry is a “hands-on” practice. In addition, the profession requires four years of highly accredited education after completing a bachelor’s degree. This intensive education allows general dentists to gain dexterity, skills in performing tasks with their hands, as well as in-depth scientific knowledge about the field. General dentists also specialize in specific types of procedures based on their individual skills and current needs of patients.
General Dentistry Procedures
When visiting a general dentist, whether you are going in for a routine dental exam or a minor oral surgery, there are many options to choose from. For example, services offered by general dentists include restorative services, preventive treatments, oral surgery, and cosmetic dentistry.
Restorative procedures are known as the “bread-and-butter” of general dentistry. A dentist searches for dental caries, also known as tooth decay or cavities, during every office visit. If a patient shows up positive for caries, a dentist will recommend an indirect or direct restoration procedure depending on the tooth decay severity.
Direct Restoration Materials
Direct restorations are repairs made inside the mouth. These restorations are also usually placed within one office visit.
Composite is a tooth-colored, adhesive bonding material consisting of glasslike filler particles and acrylic resin. Composites are the most common restorative material for cavity fillings, broken teeth, and chipped teeth. They also fabricate inlays and veneers.
Amalgam is an alloy (mixture) of up to 54 percent mercury with silver, tin, and copper. Dental amalgams are debated heavily in the dental field because of mercury’s toxicity in elemental form. Mercury in dental amalgam is less toxic, stronger, and more stable than methyl mercury (found in tuna). Amalgam is commonly used to restore posterior teeth (premolars and molars).
Conventional Glass Ionomer (CGI)
CGI is another tooth-colored restorative material consisting of polymerizable acids and ion-leachable glass particles. Although, glass ionomer is not as durable as amalgam or composite, so dentists do not use CGI restorations often. Further, this type of restoration effectively restores anterior teeth, including incisors and canines. Dentists typically do not restore posterior teeth, such as premolars and molars, with glass ionomer.
Resin-Modified Glass Ionomer (RMGI’s)
RMGIs are similar to conventional glass ionomers, but with more strength and added acrylic resins. Although, permanent teeth cannot be restored with this material. As a result, RMGI’s are typically only used to restore primary teeth (baby teeth).
Cosmetic dentistry is one of the fastest-growing sectors of dentistry. In addition, many patients electively seek cosmetic procedures. This is because these treatments enhance an individual’s smile, which boosts their confidence and improves their appearance.
People of all ages can safely receive cosmetic treatment from a certified dental professional. Additionally, if you suffer from extreme anxiety about procedures, sedation dentistry is also an option to ensure the process runs smoothly. Since cosmetic treatment is becoming more popular, many general dentists in the U.S. specialize in these procedures. Treatment options include veneers and professional teeth whitening:
A veneer is a porcelain shell that bonds over the front edge of a tooth to improve its appearance. Veneers also change the color and shape of teeth.
Professional teeth whitening is a safe and effective cosmetic treatment that lightens discolored teeth.
Indirect Restoration Materials
General dentists also offer indirect restoration procedures (materials made outside of the mouth based on an individual’s teeth impressions). However, unlike direct restoration options, they require at least two dental visits.
Common restorative procedures include crowns, inlays, and onlays.
The first step is to prepare the teeth by removing decay and preparing them for the indirect restoration. Then an impression is made. Lastly, your dentist sends the impressions to a dental laboratory to be created. During the second visit, the restorations are fitted to the teeth and any necessary adjustments are made. Patients currently have a few indirect restoration treatments to choose from, including:
Wisdom Teeth Removal
Removing wisdom teeth (third molars) is one of the most common dental surgeries. Oral surgeons and some dentists, such as general dentists, perform these procedures.
A patient receives a root canal when the soft tissue (containing nerves and blood vessels) within their tooth becomes infected. This treatment relieves pain and also saves your tooth from extraction.
When a tooth becomes heavily decayed, a dentist or surgeon will remove the tooth from its socket in the bone to prevent further damage. If a patient has severe gum disease or deep cracks in their teeth, tooth extractions may also be necessary.