Learn the difference between a general dentist and a specialist, and why it is important to find a specialist with experience for specialty dental procedures.

Are you among those who feel that a dentist specialist should only be consulted when you need a service that your general practitioner cannot accommodate? While it might be seen as a way to save money or time in the short term, choosing not to go with a specialist when one is called for can end up costing you a great deal more in the long run.

General practitioners tend to offer a wide range of services – including some that can be considered as specialty services, but there are risks associated with having some procedures handled at the general practitioner’s office rather than seeking out a specialist. Knowing when it is the right time to choose a specialist and how to do so can help ensure that you maintain a healthier mouth, are benefitting from the most up-to-date best practices, and suffer fewer potential complications following a procedure.

Why it Matters

While general dentists may be fully prepared to handle many of your more delicate dental procedures, they may not be as prepared as you need them to be. There are a number of specialties defined by the American Dental Association as “those areas where advanced knowledge and skills are essential to maintain or restore oral health.” Currently, there are nine recognized specialties:

  • Endodontics
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
  • Pediatric Dentistry
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics
  • Dental Public Health

Just as you would confidently rely on a cardiologist to perform a necessary heart surgery, you’d also want a specialist to help with your more sensitive dental needs. In the case of the cardiologist, you would expect the doctor to correctly and expertly diagnose what is wrong, understand the less obvious nuances of your specific condition, and know the potential risks of a surgery or treatment regimen. They would also need to understand how to avoid problems and complications to provide you with the best possible care for your situation. The same holds true for your dental needs, as you must be able to trust the specialist to have a much greater level of experience and training in a particular aspect of your dental health over the individual who has limited experience or broader training.

Advanced Technology and Training

Dentist looking through microscope

In some states, you may see a general practitioner and not even be aware of it. That’s because in several states dentists are allowed to self-proclaim a specialty – such as being a prosthodontist or orthodontist, while other states allow dentists to offer orthodontics (the hardware) without specifically claiming to be an orthodontist (the trained specialist).

The best way for you to be sure you are seeing a specialist is to look for a dentist who is board certified. General dentists can provide a wide range of services, but those who are Board Certified have taken their training further in one or more specialties and have committed to continual training throughout their career to ensure best practices are always employed.

To achieve Board certification, specialists must successfully master an intense, four-part examination consisting of a series of oral and written tests, plus pass exams in specialty or subspecialties. Once complete, they must commit to ongoing education and re-examinations every 10 years for re-certification. You can feel confident with dentists who are Board Certified in a given specialty area as they are expected to be fully aware of the latest techniques and science behind several facets of oral health. Find more information about the Oral Certifying Examination here.

In addition, Board Certification ensures that specialists are fully informed on the best and latest technologies that have been developed in recent years to address the various needs of their patients. Because they are specialists in the field, they are often able to invest in these new technologies that are often not used by general dentists.

Dentist looking at X-ray

Experience

Even if your general dentist is experienced and proficient in one or more of these specialties, there are other factors to consider in determining whether he or she is the right choice for you. Many specialties require a number of additional years of study before specialty is recognized.

Oral health is just as important as the rest of your physical health and should not be taken lightly. If you want the best, most up-to-date treatment options provided by the most qualified and experienced professionals, you’ll want to seek out the services of a specialist for your unique dental needs.

Not only should they hold a Board Certification to assure you that they have the appropriate training and equipment to perform your needed procedures, but the certification will also ensure that they have the experience behind them to understand the less obvious nuances of your risks and potential outcomes.

Dr. Dachowski and Dr. Sock has successfully completed a rigorous training and examination process to become board certified and earn the title of Diplomate of The American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (ABOMS).

The objective of the ABOMS is to elevate the standards of oral and maxillofacial surgery through a certification and maintenance of certification process that fosters excellence and encourages learning, thus promoting the delivery of superior health care.