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Seeing a dental specialist

Seeing a Dental Specialist

March 6, 2018

Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, our smiles need more than the routine dental exam and cleaning. If your smile needs a little extra support, your dentist may refer you to a dental specialist.

We know it can be overwhelming to get a referral from your dentist for treatment from a dental specialist, especially if you’re in pain. You may even have a few questions. And we’re here to help.

Below is an explanation of common procedures performed by specialists and 3 things you should do when you get your dentist’s referral.

Common dental procedures performed by dental specialists:

A root canal is a common treatment for a tooth that’s pulp chamber has become infected. The pulp chamber is the soft area inside the tooth that contains the nerve, blood vessels, and connective tissue that keeps your tooth in place. It can become infected from tooth decay or injury. The goal of a root canal is to remove the infection and save your tooth so it doesn’t need to be pulled. 

If you need a root canal, your dentist will likely refer you to an endodontist. Endodontists are dentists who received two or more years of additional training after dental school. On average, endodontists perform 25 root canal treatments each week, while general dentists perform around 2. 

Scaling and root planing may be recommended for people who have been diagnosed with gum disease (periodontitis). It’s a non-surgical treatment that’s like a deep cleaning where dental plaque and calculus are removed (scaling) and the exposed roots are smoothed (planing). This helps kick-start the healing process and gets you back on track to a healthy smile. 

If your dentist believes scaling and root planing is the best treatment for you, they’ll likely refer you to a periodontist. A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of gum disease. 

Oral surgery includes everything from tooth extractions to more comprehensive corrective procedures. It may be recommended to remove your wisdom teeth, repair an injured jaw, or correct a cleft palate.

If your dentist recommends oral surgery, they’ll likely refer you to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are dentists who completed an additional 4 year hospital-based surgical residency program.

3 steps to take when your dentist refers you to a specialist:


Review your dental coverage. The vast majority of our plans cover the treatments most specialists provide. But, it’s always a good idea to review your coverage information to be safe. Create or sign in to your MySmile® account to review your plan details.

Make sure the dental specialist is in your plan’s network. This is extremely important. Dentists and specialists who participate in your plan’s network help you get the most from your dental plan. Use our Find a Dentist tool to check the specialist’s network.

Get an out-of-pocket cost estimate. This helps eliminate surprises at the specialist’s office. Create or sign in to your MySmile account to get your personalized cost estimate.

If you have any questions along the way, let us know. We’re happy to help.

Shopping for dental coverage? We offer 5 individual plans designed to meet any smile's needs or budget.


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*This post originally published in December 2014 and updated in March 2018.

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