Have you ever went to your family physician and they sent you to a specialist or a lab for further evaluation or testing? Probably, because there are so many medical specialties out there and your family MD wants you to be in the best hands out there to get the best treatment. Plus the body is a very complex entity and we’re discovering everyday that it’s even more complicated than we thought before. There are even subspecialties based off of other specialties that get even more specific in diagnosis and treatment.
Dentistry is becoming more and more complex also. We’ve had oral surgeons and periodontists for decades, but now there are 9 specialties in dentistry. The following list is from the ADA and gives you an idea of what each specialty does.
Dental Public Health: Dental public health is the science and art of preventing and controlling dental diseases and promoting dental health through organized community efforts. It is that form of dental practice which serves the community as a patient rather than the individual. It is concerned with the dental health education of the public, with applied dental research, and with the administration of group dental care programs as well as the prevention and control of dental diseases on a community basis. (Adopted May 1976)
Endodontics: Endodontics is the branch of dentistry which is concerned with the morphology, physiology and pathology of the human dental pulp and periradicular tissues. Its study and practice encompass the basic and clinical sciences including biology of the normal pulp, the etiology, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases and injuries of the pulp and associated periradicular conditions. (Adopted December 1983)
Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology: Oral pathology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of pathology that deals with the nature, identification, and management of diseases affecting the oral and maxillofacial regions. It is a science that investigates the causes, processes, and effects of these diseases. The practice of oral pathology includes research and diagnosis of diseases using clinical, radiographic, microscopic, biochemical, or other examinations. (Adopted May 1991)
Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology: Oral and maxillofacial radiology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of radiology concerned with the production and interpretation of images and data produced by all modalities of radiant energy that are used for the diagnosis and management of diseases, disorders and conditions of the oral and maxillofacial region. (Adopted April 2001)
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery: Oral and maxillofacial surgery is the specialty of dentistry which includes the diagnosis, surgical and adjunctive treatment of diseases, injuries and defects involving both the functional and esthetic aspects of the hard and soft tissues of the oral and maxillofacial region. (Adopted October 1990)
Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics: Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics is the dental specialty that includes the diagnosis, prevention, interception, and correction of malocclusion, as well as neuromuscular and skeletal abnormalities of the developing or mature orofacial structures. (Adopted April 2003)
Pediatric Dentistry: Pediatric Dentistry is an age-defined specialty that provides both primary and comprehensive preventive and therapeutic oral health care for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health care needs. (Adopted 1995)
Periodontics: Periodontics is that specialty of dentistry which encompasses the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth or their substitutes and the maintenance of the health, function and esthetics of these structures and tissues. (Adopted December 1992)
Prosthodontics: Prosthodontics is the dental specialty pertaining to the diagnosis, treatment planning, rehabilitation and maintenance of the oral function, comfort, appearance and health of patients with clinical conditions associated with missing or deficient teeth and/or oral and maxillofacial tissues using biocompatible substitutes. (Adopted April 2003)
So dentistry has become almost as complex as medicine. And there are areas of dentistry that are not recognized as specialties, but certainly take further education and knowledge in order to do them well. Areas such as https://www.distinctive-smiles.com/dental-implants.html, TMJ therapy, cosmetic dentistry, sleep apnea therapy, sedation dentistry, etc. may become specialties in the future.
As a general dentist who has had training in all of these specialties and complex areas, I feel confident that we can treat most dental needs. This training also gives me the ability to know when a problem is too complex for us to treat and when a specialist’s expertise is needed. My continued education has allowed me to treat many issues and improve many smiles, but if I know that a problem can be handled more efficiently with a better result due to specialist training or materials, then I certainly fill out a referral and we get the patient to the right person.
Lastly, just like in medicine, patients that have complex problems may need a team approach to handle their care. As a general dentist, we stress that patients can look to us as the “quarterback” of the situation. We will refer them to the best specialists that we know that also communicate well. This constant communication between the specialists, the patient, and our practice keeps everyone moving the same direction to get the patient healthy. But we always stress that patients can come to us to answer questions and give guidance as their treatment moves forward.