A dentist is a dentist is a dentist, right? Well, not quite. For routine exams, cleanings, and the occasional filling, most people see a general dentist. But sometimes our smiles need more than standard care. In this case, there are several types of dental specialists, each with a particular role to fill for your oral care.
Dental specialists are dentists who receive additional training in a specific dental specialty, above and beyond their general dentistry degree. Due to heredity, issues with your overall health, an accident, or some other reason, you may need to visit a dental specialist.
Here are the six different types of dental specialists you might see during a lifetime of oral care:
Dental Specialist #1: Endodontist - Root Canal Specialist
If your tooth’s pulp becomes infected or the interior of your teeth becomes otherwise damaged or diseased, your general dentist will probably refer you to a dental specialist called an endodontist. Like unassuming superheroes, endodontists specialize in saving the day - er, I mean saving your teeth.
Inside our teeth are tiny cavern-like passages called canals that contain sensitive pulp, blood vessels, and nerves. An endodontist is a type of dentist who diagnoses and treats problems within this sensitive interior. Endodontists diagnose tooth pain and, in many cases, perform root canals on diseased teeth.
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Dental Specialist #2: Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon
This dental specialty treats problems related to the hard and soft tissues of your face, mouth, and jaw. You don’t need this type of dental specialist for every kind of oral surgery. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons perform more complex procedures or procedures requiring deep levels of sedation beyond nitrous oxide or laughing gas. In fact, oral surgeons are the only health care professionals, other than anesthesiologists, who administer all levels of sedation. Specialized procedures performed by oral surgeons include tooth extractions, corrective jaw surgery, and cleft lip or cleft palate surgery.
Dental Specialist #3: Orthodontist - Alignment Specialist
An orthodontist is a dental specialist who corrects the position of your teeth and jaws. You might see this type of dental specialist if you have an overbite, underbite or crossbite caused by a misaligned jaw. Orthodontist also correct crooked or misaligned teeth. In these situations, an orthodontist uses braces, clear aligners, palatal expanders, or headgear as part of your treatment plan. Children often see this type of dental specialist, but as adult braces and other alignments become more routine, people of all ages now commonly see orthodontists.
Whether you seek orthodontic treatment for yourself or your child, check your dental insurance coverage first so you know what to expect in terms of any out-of-pocket costs. Also, some plans require a referral from your primary dentist before receiving orthodontic treatment, so contact your dental insurance provider about this as well.
Dental Specialist #4: Pediatric Dentist
A pediatric dental specialist is to a child’s oral health like a pediatrician is to their physical health. Pediatric dentists specialize in the oral development and dental care of children from infancy through their teens. A pediatric dentist helps your child stay on the path to a lifelong, healthy smile.
Most general dentists also treat children, but parents often choose a pediatric dental specialist for their children’s routine dental care because of their kid-friendly practices and age-specific knowledge. Pediatric dental specialists provide routine care like exams, cleanings, and cavity fillings, but they are also great resources for kid-specific issues like (groan) thumb sucking.
Pediatric dentists also specialize in diagnosis of oral conditions associated with diseases like childhood diabetes. This dental specialist monitors the development of your child’s smile and recommends other dental specialists, like orthodontists, when needed.
Dental Specialist #5: Periodontist - Gum Specialist
A periodontist is a dental specialist focused on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases affecting the gums and other structures that support the teeth. Think of them as the gum disease experts of dentistry. Periodontists recognize and treat early stages of gum disease. They also perform minor surgery, like gum grafts and pocket reduction procedures, to resolve severe gum disease and restore the appearance of your smile.
This type of dental specialist also installs dental implants and lengthens existing dental crowns when necessary. If you have severe gum disease, or if your medical history complicates otherwise minor gum disease, your dentist may refer you to a periodontist.
Dental Specialist #6: Prosthodontist - Replacement Specialist
Prosthodontists restore and replace lost or damaged teeth. This dental specialty has a unique understanding of everything that goes into a beautiful, functional, and natural-looking smile. Prosthodontists specialize in dental procedures such as porcelain veneers, crowns, dental implants, bridge repair, dentures, and reconstructive dentistry.
If your dental treatment plan includes replacing or repairing teeth, your dentist may recommend you visit this type of dental specialist.
Does My Dental Insurance Cover All Types of Dentists?
All of this talk about dental specialists is well and good, but what about insurance coverage? If your general dentist refers you to a specialist, your first question is probably: but do they take my dental insurance?
I wish there was an easy answer to this, but dental plans vary quite a bit. Some plans cover specialized procedures in full, while others cover them in part, and still others provide no coverage for specialty care.
If you have existing dental insurance, contact your carrier to discuss your coverage and get a list of dental specialists in your insurance network. When setting out to buy a new dental insurance plan, take your specialized dental needs into consideration as you compare coverage options.
If you're a Delta Dental member seeking care from a dental specialist, MySmile can help! Create or sign in to your MySmile® account to search for an in-network specialist near you. You can even filter your results by patient endorsements!
Shopping for dental coverage? We offer 5 individual plans designed to meet any smile's needs or budget.
This post was last updated Oct. 17, 2019