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Dental Specialists on Your Health Care Team

March 1, 2016|  
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For most patients, most of the dental work that they need is done by a general dentist. Your general dentist is the person who coordinates your dental care, fills cavities, places crowns and employs the hygienist who cleans your teeth every six months. Sometimes, you might need to be referred out to a dental specialist. Here are some common dental specialists that might be on your healthcare team.


While most cosmetic work is done by your general dentist, in some cases, patients are referred to an orthodontist for braces and other orthodontic care. Children commonly get metal braces and palatal expanders. Adults may prefer ceramic or lingual braces, or Invisalign, which are almost-invisible braces that fit like a mouthguard. If you are referred to an orthodontist, you will still have your other dental work done by your general dentist.


Mild gum disease, called gingivitis, is something that can usually be treated with more frequent brushing and flossing. More advanced gum disease might require more frequent and/or deeper cleaning. If you have severe gum disease, however, or if you are rapidly losing bone, you might be referred to a gum specialist, called a periodontist. The scope of your periodontal care can vary; you might go simply for a consultation, you might go for a specific procedure (such as a bone graft), or you may see the periodontist every three or four months for a certain period of time. Talk to both the periodontist and your general dentist to determine how long it will be before you return to the general dentist for cleanings. In the meantime, continue to see your regular dentist for fillings and other dental work.


If you need to have root canal therapy, which is also called endodontic therapy, you might be referred to an endodontist. An endodontist performs root canals, including root canal retreatments, and some oral surgery procedures. Many general dentists perform root canals as well, but if yours looks like a complex case, you may see a specialist instead. Once your root canal is done, you’ll need to return to your general dentist to have your tooth restored. Usually, this entails having a crown placed, but in some cases, it involves a filling, inlay, onlay or bridge.

If you are referred to one or more dental specialists, keep in mind that they are not a replacement for your general dentist. Just as your primary care physician coordinates your healthcare, your general dentist coordinates your dental care. Be sure to keep your regular dentist in the loop and ask that reports from the specialists be sent to his or her office during and after your treatment.

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