Updated on February 7, 2024
7 min read

Dental Specialties: Compare Your Treatment Options

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There are nine board-certified dental specialists. However, only six dental specialties (designated by an asterisk below) typically provide individual patient dental care.

Depending on your needs, you may visit:

  1. An endodontist*
  2. An orthodontist and dentofacial orthopedist*
  3. A pediatric dentist*
  4. A periodontist*
  5. A prosthodontist*
  6. An oral and maxillofacial surgeon* 
  7. An oral and maxillofacial pathologist
  8. An oral and maxillofacial radiologist
  9. A public health 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 treatment.

dentist working on childs teeth

Endodontists: Root Canal & Dental Pulp Specialists

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

These dentists are often called “root canal specialists” because they perform many root canals per week.

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

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

During root canal treatment, an endodontist removes 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.

Orthodontists and Dentofacial Orthopedists: Tooth & Jaw Misalignment Experts

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

They specialize in fixing bite issues, such as an excessive overbite, underbite, or open bite.

Orthodontists fix malocclusion-related problems and improve speech and chewing using different devices and treatments. They typically do one or more of the following: 

  • Close gaps in teeth
  • Straighten teeth
  • Correct bad bites
  • Align tooth tips

The most common orthodontic treatment is braces, typically for children and adolescents with 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. They are thin, customized plastic trays that move teeth. 

Orthodontists typically offer the following services:

Pediatric Dentists: Children and Adolescent Dental Experts

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

These dentists treat 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 3 to 6 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:

  1. Pediatric pulp therapy (baby tooth canal)
  2. Cavity fillings
  3. Stainless steel crowns (SSCs)
  4. Dental exams and teeth cleanings
  5. Tooth sealants
  6. Fluoride treatment
  7. Extractions 
  8. Space maintainers 

Periodontists: Gum Disease Experts

Periodontists specialize in treating 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. Your dentist will likely recommend visiting a periodontist for more intensive treatment. 

Periodontists offer the following services:

Prosthodontists: Dental Restoration and Tooth Replacement Experts

Prosthodontists specialize in restorative dentistry. More specifically, they specialize in tooth replacement procedures and the placement of dental restorations.

Tooth loss from severe tooth decay is the most common reason for dental restorations. People with damaged, cracked, or discolored teeth are also candidates for dental restorations.

Dentures are the most common restorative treatment prosthodontists offer. They are recommended when someone loses all or some of their natural teeth. Dentures help fill out the facial profile and make it easier to chew and speak.

Prosthodontists also offer the following services:

  • Teeth impressions and casts
  • Dental crowns, including all-ceramic crowns, CAD-CAM systems, and full-cast crowns
  • Partial or complete dentures
  • Dental bridges
  • Dental implants
  • Bite reconstruction
  • Veneers
  • Maxillofacial prosthetics (teeth and other facial prosthetics)

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons: Minor and Invasive Oral Surgery Specialists

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

These specialists may require up to 15 years of schooling and surgical training, including 6 years in a residency program. Some oral and maxillofacial surgeons also have medical degrees. 

Other types of dentists can perform minor oral surgeries, such as tooth extractions and implant placements. However, they aren’t trained to perform some of the invasive procedures oral and maxillofacial surgeons offer.

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons offer the following services:

  • Oral cancer biopsies
  • Sleep apnea surgery
  • Reconstructive jaw surgery

Oral and Maxillofacial Pathologist: Oral, Jaw, and Face Disease Experts

Oral and maxillofacial pathologists specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases of the mouth, face, and jaw. They are experts in identifying oral cancer, salivary gland disorders, and other diseases that affect the head and neck region.

Some common symptoms of oral diseases include:

  • Mouth ulcers and sores
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Bleeding gums
  • Tooth and enamel changes
  • Loose teeth
  • Receding gums

Oral and maxillofacial pathologists also use various diagnostic tools to diagnose diseases. These include:

  • Biopsies — Biopsies involve taking a small tissue sample to examine under a microscope. This helps to determine the type of disease and its severity.
  • Imaging tests — Imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs can help to identify tumors or other abnormalities in the mouth, face, and jaw.
  • Patient tests — Oral and maxillofacial pathologists may also use blood tests, urine tests, and other laboratory tests to diagnose diseases.

Once a diagnosis is made, oral and maxillofacial pathologists can recommend treatment options. These may include medications, surgery, or radiation therapy.

They also work with other healthcare professionals to ensure that patients receive comprehensive care.

Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologist: Radiology Specialists

As their name suggests, oral and maxillofacial radiologists are specialists in the field of radiology. They interpret different imaging techniques to diagnose diseases of the mouth, jaw, face, and neck, like tumors or cysts.

Some of the common imaging techniques they use include:

  • X-rays
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Ultrasounds
  • Dental panoramic imaging
  • Cephalometric imaging
  • Sialography

In addition to diagnosing diseases, oral and maxillofacial radiologists assist in the planning of surgical procedures. They use their expertise in imaging to help surgeons determine the best approach for a particular procedure.

For instance, they may use imaging to help surgeons plan the placement of dental implants or to determine the best way to remove a tumor from the jaw.

Public Health Dentist: Oral Health Advocates

Public health dentists are oral health advocates who focus on preventing and controlling dental diseases. They work to improve the overall oral health of communities by providing education, conducting research, and advocating for policy changes.

Public health dentists may also provide direct patient care in various settings. These include:

  • Community clinics
  • Public schools
  • Nursing homes
  • Correctional facilities

There are many challenges regarding public health. For example, many communities lack access to affordable dental care. There is also a need for more education about the importance of oral health. 

Public health dentists work to address these challenges by developing and implementing different strategies. These strategies aim to improve access to care, reduce disparities in oral health outcomes, and promote healthy behaviors.


Dentistry covers a diverse group of professionals who provide specialized care in different areas. Learning about the different dental specialties can help you understand the range of services available and how they benefit your oral health.

Last updated on February 7, 2024
14 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 7, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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