Dental specialists – comparing endodontists, periodontists & orthodontists
When you need to fix your teeth, you go to see the dentist, right? However, there are times when your dentist can’t help you and needs to refer you to a specialist. Depending on your issue, your dentist may refer you to an endodontist, periodontist, orthodontist, or any of the other dental specialists. If you want to fit the best invisible aligners, you go to the orthodontist. For root canals, you go to an endodontist. Dental specialists may be hard to distinguish from one another, largely due to the fact that they all have “weird” names. In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about each dental specialist and show you how to compare them.
Types of dental specialists
Most people think of their mouth as a singular part of their bodies, similar to their heart, kidneys, and liver. However, the mouth is much more complicated than that, as there are several distinct parts that may require the attention of a specialist.
There are six types of dental specialists:
- Oral surgeons
- Pediatric dentists
Note that dentists are not included in the list, as not every dentist is a dental specialist, but every dental specialist is a dentist. If a dentist wants to get a specialization in either Orthodentistry, Endodentistry, or Periodentistry, they need to complete four years of basic dental education as well as further education in a particular field. That being said, your general dentist is still the person you go to first. Only if they are not capable of handling your issue do you need a specialist. For example, if all you need to know is how to clean your aligners easily, you can go to a dentist. However, if you need to replace your aligners, an orthodontist is the person to go to.
Out of these six types of dental specialists, endodontists, periodontists, and orthodontists are the most “popular”. Oral surgeons perform complex procedures that require deep levels of sedation, pediatric dentists specialize in children’s oral health, and prosthodontists can replace and restore lost or damaged teeth. Due to the fact that most people are going to deal with the first three dental specialists, they warrant further explanation.
Endodontists – Root canal specialists
If you are looking to save your natural teeth, you go to an endodontist. These dental specialists are familiar with numerous procedures that can save your natural teeth for as long as possible. Furthermore, endodontists have a thorough understanding of what is inside the tooth, allowing them to perform root canal treatment.
Other endodontic procedures include dental implants, traumatic dental injuries, treating tooth decay, as well as many other surgeries and treatment types designed to save your teeth. That being said, you are most likely to see an endodontist due to needing a root canal. If you need to get help with the common types of crooked teeth, you go to an orthodontist. Other reasons for visiting an endodontist include:
- Swelling on the gums
- Occasional tooth pain that does not quickly subsite
- Excessive bleeding from the gums
- Swelling of the face near a tooth
- Cracks or damages on the teeth
As mentioned previously, however, the most common procedure that endodontists perform is the root canal. This dental procedure is specially designed to salvage natural teeth and clean out serious tooth decay problems. This procedure involves removing the pulp (the place where vessels, tissue, and nerves are located), cleaning and disinfecting the tooth, and sealing it to prevent further decay.
Periodontists – Gum specialists
Periodontists specialize in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases that affect the gums. They are also capable of treating many other types of oral inflammation as well as placing dental implants. They are, basically, gum disease experts. Furthermore, periodontists often perform minor surgery (pocket reduction, gum grafts, etc.), and lengthen existing dental crowns. You may want to visit a periodontist if you:
- Need scaling and root planning
- Need root surface debridement
- Require placing, replacing, or repairing your dental implants
- Require a surgical procedure for severe gum damage/infection
When you visit a periodontist’s office, you will usually get an examination for any signs of gum recession. Furthermore, the periodontist will also look at your dental history and examine how your teeth fit together. In other words, you will be checked for any signs of advanced periodontal disease. Of course, you will also receive numerous tips for preventing gum disease, as well. The entire periodontist examination is a painless affair, as only a probe to measure pockets around your teeth and gums is used.
Once the examination is complete, however, your periodontist may suggest a form of treatment. If you have a mild case of gum disease, you may be given antibiotics. In more severe cases, your periodontist may suggest various procedures, including gum graft surgery, dental implants, pocket reduction procedure, dental crown lengthening, root planning, laser-based scaling, and bone grafting.
Orthodontists – Teeth and jaw alignment specialists
Orthodontists specialize in the correct position of your jaw and teeth. The term “Orthodontics” is usually regarded to be preventative or cosmetic, but misaligned teeth can lead to numerous other oral health issues. Unlike endodontists and periodontists, visiting an orthodontist does not require a referral from your general dentist. In fact, many orthodontists work as regular dentists in addition to their field of specialization.
However, it is usually a much better idea to visit an orthodontist that only deals with orthodontics. A dental specialist who “dabbles” outside their field of specialization might not have the same practical experience as the one that fully focuses on their field of expertise. Furthermore, there is a possibility that your dental insurance plan requires a referral from your primary dentist. If you are planning on visiting your orthodontist only, you will want to get in touch with your dental insurance provider and see if you still get coverage.
You are most likely going to visit an orthodontist before you consider getting teeth braces. There are many questions to ask your orthodontist before braces, and you might want to get additional information before you decide on this lengthy orthodontic procedure. What many people do not realize is that their underbite, overbite, or crossbite are all caused by a misaligned jaw, which may require other forms of treatment.
Orthodontic treatment is usually much longer than any other treatment type due to the fact that your jaw and teeth require long-lasting changes.
Comparing the dental specialists
It is important to understand that all dental specialists are still dentists. In other words, they can help you much the same as general dentist can. However, they might not have the same experience as a general dentist when it comes to diagnosing a wide variety of issues.
When comparing dental specialists, it is easier to first understand what their specialties stand for. First, you must have noticed that all dental specialists have an “Odontist” in their name. This is derived from the Greek word tooth (odous, odont). The prefix is what is important, however, as Endo stands for “inner”, meaning that the endodontist is specialized in treating the root or pulp of the tooth. Ortho means “straight”, indicating that orthodontists specialize in teeth straightening. Perio refers to “around”, indicating that periodontists specialize in treating everything that is around the teeth.
Each specialty requires a different set of skills and experience. Due to this fact, most specialists require additional two to three years of educational training, as well as a certification of specialization, before they can go into practice. The fact that each “Odontist” specializes in a different area, you can’t really compare them to one another. Instead, what you might want to do is simply visit the best dentist in your area and have them refer you to a specialist if you require additional treatment. While each specialist can help you maintain your oral health, it is in your best interest to make sure that your general dentist is the best they can possibly be. Therefore, the last part of this article will be devoted to finding the best dentist near you.
Finding the best dentist
According to the American Dental Association, the first thing you should do when searching for a dentist is to ask your family, friends, neighbors, or even co-workers for recommendations. Alternatively, you may want to ask your local pharmacist or your family doctor. While you can definitely just go into the closest dentist’s office and ask to be treated, it is usually better if you already have at least one or two recommendations.
If you happen to be moving and need to find a dentist in your new area, you may want to consult with your current dentist. Another option is to contact your state dental society and have them provide you with a few recommendations. Either way, you do not want to select your dentist before visiting at least a few of them. Changing dentists is not the easiest thing to do for most people, so you might want to make sure that your first choice is the right one.
Questions, questions, questions
Here are some questions you might want to ask before choosing your dentist:
- Are the dentist’s office hours convenient for your schedule?
- What sort of arrangements can you expect for emergencies that happen outside of office hours?
- Does the dentist provide you with all the information about fees and payment plans before scheduling your treatment?
- Is the dentist’s office close to your work or home?
- What type of anesthesia is the dentist certified to administer?
- How familiar is the dentist with preventive dentistry?
- What is the policy on missed appointments?
- Does the dentist’s office include dental hygienists?
- How long does a standard dental cleaning take?
- How often does the office take X-Rays?
- What is the dentist’s approach to infection control?
Basically, the more questions you ask, the better. There are so many dentist’s offices around that you are not going to be lacking in choice. That said, you may not even realize exactly how many dentist practices might be in your area.
How to search for a dentist’s office
As mentioned previously, your first step in searching for a quality dentist should be to ask your family and friends if they know of one. If your friends like a particular dentist, chances are that you will like them too. However, it may happen that you simply don’t like that particular dentist or that their office is not conveniently located. In that case, you will want to utilize your internet search engine of choice. For example, you can simply type in “dentists near me” on Google, and you might be amazed at how many practices there are.
After finding all the available practices, it is time to read some reviews. Do not put too much stock in online reviews, though, as people are more inclined to leave a bad review than a good one. Even the best dentists occasionally get bad reviews, after all. Try not to focus on individual experiences too much but try to find review “patterns”. If you see that most reviews praise (or scoff at) a particular skill, chances are that what you are reading is true. If there are few to no reviews, you might want to consider either choosing a different dentist or “biting the bullet” and hoping for the best. Dentists without online reviews are not necessarily bad; they might simply be inexperienced.
Meeting the dentist
Before you make the final decision, make sure to meet your dentist first. Get in touch with the office and request to schedule a consultation. That way, you will be able to talk with your dentist, see the office without any strings attached, discuss the pros and cons of ceramic braces at your leisure, etc. After some time in the office, you may find that you really like the dentist and the office, or you might find that they are not the best fit for you.
Lastly, try not to choose your dental specialists while having a dental emergency. You will most likely be in pain, and the dentist will have to “squeeze” you into their schedule. These circumstances can turn you off from any dentist.
For more information on dental health, teeth braces, and the best dental networks, you can always refer to the Consumer Opinion Guide. Our helpful articles are there to provide you with any information you might require!