Dental Specialties: Compare Your Treatment Options

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6 Types of Dental Specialties

There are 9 board-certified dental specialists. However, only 6 dental specialties provide individual patient dental care.

Depending on needs, you'll either visit a periodontist, prosthodontist, endodontist, oral surgeon, orthodontist, or pediatric dentist.

Family dentists and general dentists offer many of the same services as dental specialists but do not focus on just one area of dentistry.

Instead, they offer services in all fields of dentistry, including restorative, cosmetic, and pediatric dental treatments.

Periodontists: Gum Disease Experts

Periodontists specialize in the treatment of diseases related to the gums.

When the gums begin to wear away, plaque and decay-causing bacteria can get underneath the gums, causing inflammation. This eventually leads to bone loss around the jaw and teeth. As a result, teeth may become loose, fall out, or need to be extracted. If this occurs, you have periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is the most severe form of gum disease. Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease. If you leave gingivitis untreated, it can turn into periodontal disease over time. At this stage, the disease is irreversible and requires prompt treatment.

If you have periodontal disease, your dentist will likely recommend visiting a periodontist for more intensive treatment. These specialists focus on the treatment of gum disease in people of all ages.

Periodontists also specialize in dental implant procedures, which are artificial teeth. When a tooth is lost due to periodontal disease (periodontitis), an implant (artificial tooth root) is placed in the patient's jawbone.

Periodontists offer the following services:

Prosthodontists: Dental Restoration & Tooth Replacement Experts

Prosthodontists specialize in restorative dentistry. More specifically, they specialize in tooth replacement procedures and the placement of dental restorations, such as implants, crowns, dentures, veneers, and bridges.

The most common reason why patients need dental restorations is due to tooth loss from severe tooth decay. People with damaged teeth, cracked teeth, and discolored teeth are also candidates for dental restorations.

Dentures are the most common restorative treatment prosthodontists offer. When a person loses all or some of their natural teeth from gum disease, tooth decay, or an injury, artificial teeth replace the missing tooth/teeth. 

Dentures help fill out the facial profile and improve appearance. They also make it easier to eat, chew, and speak normally.

Prosthodontists offer the following services:

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons: Minor & Invasive Oral Surgery Specialists

Oral and maxillofacial surgery focuses on minor and invasive procedures involving the mouth, face, and jaw. "Maxillofacial” refers to the face and jaw, while “oral” refers to the mouth.

These specialists require up to 15 years of dental school and surgical training to become a qualified surgeon. They also have to complete up to six years of training at a residency program, including two additional years to receive a medical degree.

Oral surgeons either have their own private practice, work at a local dentist's office, or work at a hospital full-time.

Other types of dentists (like general and pediatric dentists) can also perform minor oral surgeries, such as tooth extractions. They are not trained to perform invasive surgical procedures.

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons offer the following services:

Endodontists: Root Canal & Dental Pulp Specialists

Endodontists treat oral health issues related to the dental pulp, which contains the tissues, blood vessels, and nerves surrounding teeth roots.

These dentists are often referred to as “root canal specialists” because they perform 25 root canals per week, on average.

As caries (cavities) grow, they get closer to the pulp, which may lead to an infection or a serious pulpal disease. Even small cavities and trauma-related dental issues can release toxins to the dental pulp.

Once the dental pulp becomes infected, you'll need a root canal to save the tooth.

During root canal treatment, periodontists remove the infected dental pulp in the roots of a tooth. Then the tooth is restored with a dental crown. General dentists also perform root canals, but not as often as endodontists.

Endodontists offer the following services:

Orthodontists: Tooth & Jaw Misalignment Experts

Orthodontics is a branch of dentistry that focuses on treating misaligned teeth, crooked teeth, and jaw misalignment (malocclusion) issues.

Orthodontists specialize in fixing bite issues, such as an overbite, underbite, or open bite, among others.

Orthodontists fix malocclusion-related problems using different devices and treatments. Common indicators for treatment include:

  • Closing gaps in teeth
  • Straightening teeth
  • Correcting bites
  • Speech and chewing improvement
  • Aligning tips of teeth
  • Improving gum and teeth health

The most common orthodontic treatment is braces, typically for children and adolescents who have newly erupted permanent teeth. Braces, including traditional metal braces and clear braces, are made of individual brackets and metal wires.

Clear aligners, also called invisible aligners, are becoming increasingly popular. Clear aligners are thin, plastic trays that are formed specifically to a patient’s teeth. You must wear each aligner for up to three weeks. This moves the teeth a fraction of a millimeter at a time.

Instead of wearing braces, many adults turn to aligners to fix crooked teeth. This is because they are virtually invisible and removable.

Orthodontists offer the following services:

Pediatric Dentists: Children & Adolescent Dental Specialists

Pediatric dentists are similar to general dentists because they offer a wide range of dental services and treatment options.

However, pediatric dentists specialize in treating babies, children, and adolescents, rather than adults. They also offer specialized treatment for sick or disabled children.

Common oral conditions that affect children include:

  • Cavities, also called tooth decay or 'caries'
  • Enamel erosion, also referred to as dental erosion or acid erosion
  • Gum disease, including gingivitis (mild) and pediatric periodontal disease (advanced)
  • Facial damage caused by traumatic injuries, such as car accidents
  • Tooth development abnormalities, such as a cleft lip and palate

Children should visit a pediatric dentist every six months for a dental exam and teeth cleaning. These exams help reduce the chance of disease by keeping the oral cavity healthy throughout life.

After a patient turns 18 years old, they will no longer receive treatment from a pediatric dentist. Instead, a family dentist or general dentist will begin treating them.

Pediatric dentists offer the following services:

Resources

American Academy of Periodontology. Gum Disease In Children | Perio.org, www.perio.org/consumer/gum-disease-and-children.

“Dental Caries (Tooth Decay) in Children Age 2 to 11.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nidcr.nih.gov/research/data-statistics/dental-caries/children.

“Endodontic Retreatment.” American Association of Endodontists, www.aae.org/patients/root-canal-treatment/endodontic-treatment-options/endodontic-retreatment/.

Guerrero, Andre V et al. “What is in a name? Oral and maxillofacial surgeon versus oral surgeon.” Journal of oral and maxillofacial surgery : official journal of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons vol. 72,1 (2014): 8-18. doi:10.1016/j.joms.2013.04.018

Hollins, Carole. Basic Guide to Dental Procedures. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015.

Koch Göran, et al. Pediatric Dentistry: a Clinical Approach. John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2017.

“Malocclusion of Teeth: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001058.htm

National Institutes of Health (NIH). Periodontal (Gum) Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments. NIH Publication, 2013. https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/sites/default/files/2017-09/periodontal-disease_0.pdf

Nowak, Arthur J. Pediatric Dentistry: Infancy through Adolescence. Elsevier, 2019.

“OMS Procedures | AAOMS.” header__brand, www.aaoms.org/education-research/dental-students/oms-procedures.

“Orthodontic Treatment Options.” American Association of Orthodontists, www.aaoinfo.org/orthodontic-treatment-options/

Proffit, William R., et al. Contemporary Orthodontics. Elsevier/Mosby, 2019.

Rangarajan, V., and T. V. Padmanabhan. Textbook of Prosthodontics- E-Book. Elsevier India, 2017.

Syrbu, John DDS. The Complete Pre-Dental Guide to Modern Dentistry. 2013.

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