Your general dentist has always been there for you, from cavities to checkups, every six months like clockwork. If you follow up with your routine cleaning schedule, you’re probably on a first-name basis with his staff and have a good relationship, but is he always the best one to turn to? Would you know if you should be seeing a specialist?
All dentists in the United States are doctors and go through a lengthy degree program in order to become a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medical Dentistry (DMD). These degrees are essentially the same, but universities vary the title they provide. Doctors who decide to hone their skills in a particular area and obtain additional certifications after they become a DDS or DMD are known as specialists. At the present time, the American Dental Association (ADA) recognizes nine specialties, of which only six relate directly to clinical practice.
* Dental Public Health
* Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
* Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
* Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
* Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
* Pediatric Dentistry
General dentists often refer their patients to specialists when patients need a level of care that can’t be provided in their office. For example, children who aren’t prepared to sit still in the chair will often be referred to a pediatric dentist. Many general dentists will also send patients to an endodontist (root canal specialist) for treatment of the back teeth because they have an extra root and are more time-consuming, or if a tooth doesn’t respond to endodontic treatment the first time around. In general, there are three huge benefits to seeing specialists for treatment.
As mentioned before, specialists have to go through additional schooling, which generally amounts to a two-year residency program. On top of this, all dentists have continuing education requirements. This means that they have to keep taking classes for as long as they’re licensed, in order to remain in good standing. Because general dentists work in all aspects of dentistry, they can go their whole lives without ever refining their skills in a specialty area. Although a specialist could take CE courses in another area of dentistry, it’s far more likely that one will take classes that apply to the job he does every day. Over time, this can add several more years of specialty training to a doctor’s curriculum vitae.
It probably goes without saying, but the more often a person does something, the better he is at doing it. Perhaps the most compelling research in this area involves dental implants. While there is no specialty dedicated to dental implants, it’s far more common for prosthodontists, oral surgeons, and periodontists to handle dental implant cases, especially the more complex ones. A recent study compared the success rates of doctors with more than five years of experience to those with fewer and found that those with less experience placed dental implants that failed 10% more often.
Because general dentists handle a wide variety of procedures, they tend to invest in all-purpose tools and materials, whereas the specialist invests in the tools that makes performing his specialty smoother and easier on the patient. While it may not be obvious to the untrained eye looking at the arsenal of equipment seen on the dental tray, it’s easy to recognize when comparing a general dentist’s materials to those of an orthodontist or pediatric dentist. The same is true across all specialties and it makes a difference in the quality of care provided.
All these things mean that the specialist is primed to not only do a better job, but also to do it more efficiently. Your dentist may refer you elsewhere when he knows your needs are beyond his skills, but there’s a good chance he’ll try to keep you in-house the rest of the time, even if you really could benefit from seeing the specialist. You may want to consider seeking out a specialist consultation on your own if:
* You need any kind of surgery (including wisdom teeth extractions)
* You’re considering getting an implant
* You need a root canal on a molar (back tooth)
* You have a lot of cavities
* You have or need six or more crowns
* You’re considering a “smile makeover” or full-mouth rehabilitation
* You want a more beautiful smile (cosmetic dentistry is not a recognized specialty, but prosthodontists work in this area)
* You suffer from Temporomandibular Joint Disorder/ TMD (also called TMJ)
* Your child fidgets in the chair or seems uneasy (pediatric dentists try to make it fun)
If you’d like information on smile transformations, reconstructing your smile, or other areas of cosmetic dentistry, such as implants and additional missing tooth replacement options, a prosthodontist is the type of specialist you should see. As a Harvard-educated prosthodontist, Dr. Sergio Rauchwerger can help you understand all your treatment options and provide an unprecedented level of care. Send us an email or call 561-798-7807 to schedule a consult today.