Did you know there are different types of dentistry?

When you think of dentists, it’s probably your general dentist who pops into your mind. General dentists are the equivalent of your primary care physician; they’re who you go to for preventative cleanings every six months and who you call if you chip or crack a tooth. They can diagnose and treat a range of dental issues, but the mouth is just as complex as other areas of your body, so it’s no wonder there are different types of dental specialists.

Like any other medical field, dentistry has a range of specialists who undergo additional education so that they can treat specific aspects of oral health. As a patient, it can be hard to determine when your general dentist is enough and when a specialist is necessary—let alone which specialist is right for your situation. To help you understand the ins and outs of dental specialists, we’ve included details on the most common ones below.  

1. Orthodontists

This is one of the more recognizable dental specialties; even if you haven’t undergone orthodontic treatment, you probably know someone who has. Orthodontists work to diagnose and treat misalignments of your teeth and bite, called malocclusions.

Malocclusions come in many forms, including crooked teeth, overcrowding, overbites, and underbites. These conditions aren’t mutually exclusive, so you can have overcrowding and an underbite at the same time.

Malocclusions can make patients self-conscious about their smiles, but they can also cause health concerns, from making it harder to clean your teeth to frequent headaches and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain.

Orthodontists use a range of tools to solve these issues, including braces, clear aligners, and retainers. In rare cases, orthodontists may need to extract teeth to create more room in a patient’s mouth or may recommend that patients wear headgear at night to help remedy severe malocclusions.

Additionally, modern techniques allow orthodontists to prevent or lessen the extent of malocclusions in young patients; this is why it’s so important for children to have their first appointment with an orthodontist around the age of seven.

Although it’s best to get orthodontic treatment at a younger age if possible, no one is too old for it. If you’re concerned about your bad bite or crooked teeth, orthodontic treatment might be right for you.

Feel free to speak to Dr. Wohlers about your options. Since general dentists have education and experience in such a wide range of issues and often refer patients for orthodontic treatment, your dentist is likely to know how severe your case is and can give you an idea of what to expect.

2. Periodontists

Periodontists are dental specialists who are known for diagnosing and treating gum disease. Severe gum disease, or periodontitis, is when bacteria make it underneath your gumline and begin to attack the roots and other supporting structures of your teeth—it’s the leading cause of tooth loss in America.

Since periodontitis attacks more than just your gums, treating it involves ensuring the health of your gums and the other supporting structures of your teeth—including bone.

Periodontists use a range of nonsurgical and surgical procedures to fight gum disease, such as scaling, root planing, deep pocket cleanings, and flap procedures. They often prescribe antibiotics to help your body fight off lingering bacteria as well.

Periodontitis can cause lasting damage, however, so periodontists may need to perform procedures, including gum or bone grafting, to repair that damage and to keep your teeth healthy.

Gum disease is often completely painless even when it’s severe, but there are other signs you can watch out for at home. Gums that are swollen or tender to the touch, bleed when you floss, or are receding or forming deep pockets that weren’t present before are all signs of gum disease.

If you notice any of these signs, make an appointment with your general dentist or a periodontist right away. Minor cases of gum disease can be handled by your general dentist and a thorough oral hygiene routine, but your dentist will likely recommend that you make an appointment with a periodontist if you have a more severe case of gum disease.

3. Endodontists

Endodontists are dental specialists who treat issues with the soft interior of your teeth, called the pulp. The pulp is made up of connective tissues, blood vessels, and nerves—it’s what enables you to detect temperature changes and feel pressure and pain with your teeth.

Endodontists work to try and save teeth when the pulp has become infected with bacteria, often performing root canals to save the structure of the infected tooth. When a tooth is too far gone, however, endodontists often have to perform tooth extractions.

If you’re experiencing a toothache, you should make an appointment with Dr. Wohlers right away.

Most cavities are completely painless, so if you start feeling pain it’s a sign that your tooth pulp may already be infected. General dentists receive training to diagnose and treat infections in the pulp of a tooth, so your dentist will be able to spot the problem and may be able to treat you.

If you prefer dental specialists rather than general dentists, or if your case is complicated, you may be referred to an endodontist for treatment.

4. Prosthodontists

Prosthodontists specialize in restoring the health, function, and appearance of your teeth by repairing or replacing them. Prosthodontists aim to protect your oral health in both the short- and long-term.

Issues such as missing teeth, for example, can make it harder to eat and speak, but they also pose risks to your long-term oral health because your remaining teeth tend to spread out into the gap. This makes it harder for you to clean them and more likely that you’ll get tooth decay or gum disease.

Prosthodontists may also treat patients with TMJ pain. They often repair or replace teeth using crowns, bridges, dentures, and dental implants.

General dentists can repair your teeth on a smaller scale, such as repairing chipped teeth with dental bonding or placing crowns, but more specialized jobs need to be done by prosthodontists. If you’re suffering from TMD or hoping to replace missing teeth, you probably need to schedule an appointment with a prosthodontist.

5. Cosmetic Dentists

Cosmetic dentists are dental specialists who aim to increase your self-confidence by improving the appearance of your smile. They use a wide range of treatments to improve your smile, including dental bonding, tooth whitening, clear aligners, veneers, crowns, and dental implants.

Cosmetic dentists and prosthodontists perform a lot of the same treatments, but the main difference between the two is that in cosmetic dentistry, the main goal of the treatment is to improve the appearance of your smile. Cosmetic dentistry does often have a positive impact on your oral health, but not always—and when it does, this benefit is rarely the main reason patients seek treatment.

If you’re self-conscious about your smile, you may benefit from speaking to a cosmetic dentist about your options. Dr. Wohlers is both a general dentist and a cosmetic dentist, so if you have any questions you can schedule a consultation with her at any time.

We understand that navigating the differences between dental specialties can be confusing. Thankfully, general dentists are there to help guide you through it; you don’t have to wait for your six-month checkup to see them if you have a concern before then.

If you’re unsure whether or not you need a specialist, feel free to book an appointment with Dr. Wohlers at any time. Her wide range of experience and skills will allow her to identify the problem and refer you to the right specialist if you need one.