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What is a dentist?
A dentist — sometimes called a general dentist or family dentist — is a healthcare provider who diagnoses and treats oral health conditions. Dentists help keep your teeth and gums healthy with regular dental check-ups and cleanings. They can also perform a variety of oral health treatments, including dental fillings, crowns and bridges.
Are dentists doctors?
Yes. Dentists are doctors because they undergo extensive medical training. In the United States, a person who wants to become a dentist must receive an undergraduate degree and complete four years of focused training in an accredited dental school.
The extent of training is similar in other countries, as well — even though titles may differ. For example, in the United Kingdom, people refer to dentists as dental surgeons and traditionally use the title Mr., Miss or Mrs., though some may use Dr.
What’s the difference between a DDS and a DMD?
If you live in the U.S., you may see two different titles following a dentist’s name:
- DDS: Doctor of Dental Surgery.
- DMD: Doctor of Dental Medicine (Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry)
If you see either of these titles, it means that your dentist graduated from an accredited dental school. A DDS and DMD receive the same amount of training and can perform the same dental procedures.
What does a dentist do?
Dentists can treat a wide range of conditions affecting your teeth, gums, jaws and other areas of your mouth. They offer treatments in:
- Preventive dentistry.
- Restorative dentistry.
- Emergency dental care.
Dentists offer preventive dentistry to protect your teeth and gums from disease-causing bacteria, stopping issues before they start. Preventive treatments include:
- Dental exams.
- Dental X-rays.
- Fluoride treatments.
Dentists also perform restorative procedures to repair or replace damaged or missing teeth. Restorative dentistry treatments include:
Emergency dental care
Many dentists offer 24/7 emergency dental care. Emergency treatments include:
- Tooth extractions.
- Root canals.
- Treating knocked-out (avulsed) teeth.
How often should you go to the dentist?
For routine care, such as dental exams and cleanings, you should schedule visits at intervals recommended by your dentist. Most people can maintain optimal oral health with proper at-home oral hygiene and professional cleanings every six months. But if you’re prone to cavities or gum disease, you may benefit from more frequent visits. Ask your dentist about a cleaning schedule that works best for you.
How many dental specialties are there?
A dentist helps you maintain the health of your teeth and gums. But there are also dental specialists who focus on treating very specific issues. After graduating from a four-year dental school, these specialists undergo two to three years of additional education and training in their field of choice.
There are many areas of focus that a dentist may choose to pursue, including:
- Pedodontics: Also called pediatric dentistry, pedodontics focuses on treating children, adolescents and teens.
- Orthodontics: This branch of dentistry focuses on realigning your bite and straightening your teeth for optimal health and function. Orthodontists offer braces, clear aligners, retainers and other custom-made appliances.
- Endodontics: An endodontist specializes in performing root canal therapy. Many general dentists perform root canals, too. But a dentist might refer you to an endodontist for complex cases.
- Periodontics: A periodontist diagnoses and treats gum disease and other conditions affecting the tissues around your teeth.
- Prosthodontics: A prosthodontist specializes in creating natural-looking dental restorations, such as crowns, bridges and dentures.
- Oral and maxillofacial surgery: Oral surgeons treat diseases, defects and injuries of your jaws and other orofacial (mouth and face) structures. They commonly perform wisdom teeth removal, but also offer several other procedures.
- Oral and maxillofacial pathology: Oral pathologists study the causes and effects of oral disease and provide diagnoses for complex cases.
- Oral and maxillofacial radiology: Oral and maxillofacial radiologists specialize in the interpretation of dental X-rays, CT (computed tomography) scans and other dental imaging tests.
- Public health dentistry: Public health dentists strive to improve oral health within communities by designing programs geared toward disease prevention.
- Dental anesthesiology: A dental anesthesiologist offers advanced pain management services for people undergoing dental or oral surgery procedures.
- Oral medicine: Dentists in this specialty focus on the diagnosis and treatment of people with chronic medical issues.
- Orofacial pain management: These dentists focus on diagnosis, treatment and prevention of pain in your teeth, jaws, head and face.
- Cosmetic dentistry: Cosmetic dentists focus on improving the appearance of your smile. Treatments include teeth whitening, porcelain veneers and gum contouring. Many cosmetic dentists offer preventive and restorative treatments, too. But some choose to focus solely on cosmetic procedures.
- Implant dentistry: Implant dentists place dental implants, a popular, long-term teeth replacement option. Specialists, such as periodontists and oral surgeons, often place implants. But many general dentists do as well.
- Reconstructive dentistry: Some dentists focus on full mouth reconstruction or rehabilitation. This involves treating people who have extensive cavities or gum disease. Treatment often includes extensive procedures and it may take several appointments to achieve the desired outcome.
- Forensic dentistry: Forensic dentists examine teeth and interpret dental records for legal purposes. For example, when law enforcement finds human remains, a forensic dentist can evaluate teeth and jaw bones to identify the victim.
When should I see a dentist?
You should see a dentist any time you develop new or concerning symptoms. Schedule a dental appointment if you have:
- A toothache.
- An abscessed tooth.
- Swollen, bleeding gums.
- Chipped or broken teeth.
- Teeth sensitivity.
- Teeth that are short or boxy.
- Jaw pain.
- Bruxism (teeth grinding).
- Persistent bad breath (halitosis).
- Bumps, lumps or sores in your mouth.
In addition, remember to visit your dentist regularly for exams and cleanings. These appointments help your dentist detect and treat issues before they worsen — saving you time, worry and money in the long run.
What’s a board-certified dentist?
Board certification by the American Board of General Dentistry means that a dentist commits themselves to excellence in their field. Following graduation from a four-year dental school, a dentist who wishes to become certified must pass rigorous testing that includes written, oral and clinical exams.
What if I’m anxious about visiting the dentist?
Dental anxiety is very real. Some people even avoid necessary dental care due to fear. If you’re nervous about visiting the dentist, tell your provider. Many dentists offer sedation options to keep you comfortable during procedures.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A dentist is your primary dental care provider. They can help keep your teeth and gums healthy. In addition to regular visits to your dentist, be sure to practice good oral hygiene at home. For decades, healthcare providers have recognized the ever-present connection between oral health and whole-body health. If infection is present in your mouth, then it’s present in the rest of your body, too. In addition to protecting yourself against cavities and gum disease, visiting your dentist regularly gives you the best chance for living a long and healthy life.
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- Northeast Ohio 216.444.8500
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