Different types of dentists are involved in the care of your gums, teeth, and mouth, such as general dentists, periodontists, orthodontists, and oral surgeons.
They are oral health care providers who specialize in addressing problems and conditions in certain areas of the mouth.
As they are concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of the various oral conditions, understanding the difference between them can be quite confusing for a new patient.
However, knowing their specific aspects of dentistry is essential, especially in the case of a serious problem related to oral health or when you are about to book an appointment for surgery.
The Most Common Oral Health Care Providers
To better understand the difference, here is a brief description of these oral health care providers:
1. General Dentist
A general dentist, as its name suggests, is a primary dental care provider. He/she is involved in the diagnosis, treatment, and management your overall (general) oral health care needs. This includes teeth inspection, gum care, fillings, crowns, root canals, bridges, veneers, and preventive education.
General dentists have earned either a DMD or DDS degree (doctor of dental medicine or doctor of dental surgery, respectively). These degrees cover basic curriculum requirements that a general dentist must meet.
Generally, they require two or more years of undergraduate education along with four years of dental education and experience to become a general dentist.
Designations like periodontists and orthodontists require additional post-graduate training.
The duties of a general dentist commonly include:
- Basic dental exams;
- Gum care;
- Dental X-rays;
- Root canals.
A periodontist is more educated and experienced than a general dentist. He specializes in oral implants and maintains the health of hard and soft tissues in the mouth. This means he looks after the foundational support for your teeth, i.e., your gums.
This type of oral health care providers has typically earned the basic degree of DMD or DDS, plus completed three or more years of post-graduate studies in periodontics.
Your general dentist will be able to treat an early case of gum disease. But if your condition worsens and leads to periodontitis (inflammation of the gums due to infection or other causes), you will need to consult an experienced periodontist. He will be able to organize a plan of action to address the situation and the underlying cause.
Some dental practices have both general dentists and periodontists. A practice of such (see New York Total Dental as an example) is usually more convenient. That’s because if the general dentist diagnoses that you need to see a periodontist, he/she can just send you to the next room, or easily ask the in-house periodontist for an opinion.
A periodontist is specialized in performing a variety of treatments such as scaling, root planning or a root surface debridement.
He is also qualified to embed oral implants surgically. An implant is an artificial root that is surgically placed in your jaw bone to hold an artificial (replacement) tooth.
Periodontists typically perform this procedure for individuals who have lost their teeth or damaged their root canal either due to direct trauma or advanced cases of dental diseases.
Thanks to modern technology, periodontists are now able to embed implants that look natural and it seems that a patient never had any dental intervention done before.
Besides performing duties of a general dentist, additional job responsibilities of a periodontist include:
- Treating gingivitis along the gum line and between teeth;
- Removing plaque and tartar;
- Pulling teeth if repair is not an option;
- Administering anesthetics around affected areas;
- Performing tissue and bone grafts.
3. Oral And Maxillofacial Surgeon
Commonly referred to as OMFS, oral and maxillofacial surgeons are oral health care providers who perform a wide variety of dental surgical procedures related to the jaw, teeth, mouth, and face.
A qualified oral and maxillofacial surgeon can treat traumatic jaw injuries, fix birth defects, administer various forms of anesthesia, perform complex tooth extractions, and remove cancerous tumors in the mouth.
After graduating from dental school (earning DMD or DDS degree), it requires several years of extra schooling to become an OMFS. In many countries, the additional schooling and residency placement required is approximately six years.
Your regular dentist is not able to handle complicated cases of oral surgery so your dentist will refer you to an OMFS if you need a dental procedure.
Some of the surgeries done by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon include:
- Soft tissue removal;
- Simple tooth removals;
- Impacted tooth removal;
- Complex tooth removals that include jaw bone;
- Removal of tumors;
- Implant alignment.
The bottom line is that all these three types of oral health care providers can help you enhance your smile, but each one is specialized in a different part of the mouth.
A general dentist can diagnose and treat basic dental problems like infections, periodontist focuses on gum health and implants, while a dental surgeon is qualified to perform a wide variety of surgical procedures.
While some of their duties may overlap in certain areas, oral surgery and periodontics are dental specializations that hold different divisions within the field of dentistry.