Many patients are not familiar with specialists in dentistry. As of this writing, in the United States, there are twelve dental specialties in dentistry recognized by American Dental Association. In this article, we will describe these specialties and common reasons for a general dentist to refer patients to various specialists.
Dental specialists have additional training beyond dental school and often limit their practice to their specialty area in dentistry. Your family dentist/general dentist would refer you to a specialist as appropriate. For complex needs, your dentist may refer you to a couple of specialists at the same time. It is important that you continue to come to your general dentist for regular checkups and coordinate your overall oral care.
Sometimes there are overlapping practice/treatment areas between general dentists and specialists in dentistry: similar to that there are several medical specialists who are able to perform cardiac catheterization. For example, your general dentist may perform root canal procedures but is not referred to as an endodontist (specialists) unless they have additional formal training in the area.
Below is the list of specialties recognized by American Dental Association.
Endodontics is the branch of dentistry which is concerned with the morphology, physiology and pathology of the human dental pulp and periradicular tissues. Its study and practice encompass the basic and clinical sciences including biology of the normal pulp, the etiology, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases and injuries of the pulp and associated periradicular conditions. (Adopted May 2018)
An endodontist is a root canal specialist. Your dentist may refer you to an endodontist for diagnosing and treating cracked tooth or complex root canal treatment. Endodontists typically have microscopes that can detect fine cracks on the tooth.
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
Oral and maxillofacial surgery is the specialty of dentistry which includes the diagnosis, surgical and adjunctive treatment of diseases, injuries and defects involving both the functional and esthetic aspects of the hard and soft tissues of the oral and maxillofacial region. (Adopted May 2018)
Oral Surgeons are commonly referred to for wisdom teeth, complex teeth extraction, implant placement, or other surgical needs.
Periodontics is that specialty of dentistry which encompasses the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth or their substitutes and the maintenance of the health, function and esthetics of these structures and tissues. (Adopted May 2018)
Periodontists (gum specialist) commonly perform gum surgeries such as gum grafting.
Prosthodontics is the dental specialty pertaining to the diagnosis, treatment planning, rehabilitation and maintenance of the oral function, comfort, appearance and health of patients with clinical conditions associated with missing or deficient teeth and/or oral and maxillofacial tissues using biocompatible substitutes. (Adopted May 2018)
Prosthodontists are commonly referred to for complex advanced reconstructive treatment such as multiple implants supported dentures and multiple crowns and bridges.
Prosthodontists also do full mouth rehabilitation/reconstruction (toothwear). They also correct bite or joint problems.
Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics is the dental specialty that includes the diagnosis, prevention, interception, and correction of malocclusion, as well as neuromuscular and skeletal abnormalities of the developing or mature orofacial structures. (Adopted May 2018)
Pediatric Dentistry is an age-defined specialty that provides both primary and comprehensive preventive and therapeutic oral health care for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health care needs. (Adopted May 2018)
Dental anesthesiology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of anesthesiology encompassing the art and science of managing pain, anxiety, and overall patient health during dental, oral, maxillofacial and adjunctive surgical or diagnostic procedures throughout the entire perioperative period. The specialty is dedicated to promoting patient safety as well as access to care for all dental patients, including the very young and patients with special health care needs. (Adopted March 2019)
Dental Public Health
Dental public health is the science and art of preventing and controlling dental diseases and promoting dental health through organized community efforts. It is that form of dental practice which serves the community as a patient rather than the individual. It is concerned with the dental health education of the public, with applied dental research, and with the administration of group dental care programs as well as the prevention and control of dental diseases on a community basis. (Adopted May 2018)
Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
Oral pathology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of pathology that deals with the nature, identification, and management of diseases affecting the oral and maxillofacial regions. It is a science that investigates the causes, processes, and effects of these diseases. The practice of oral pathology includes research and diagnosis of diseases using clinical, radiographic, microscopic, biochemical, or other examinations. (Adopted May 2018)
Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
Oral and maxillofacial radiology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of radiology concerned with the production and interpretation of images and data produced by all modalities of radiant energy that are used for the diagnosis and management of diseases, disorders and conditions of the oral and maxillofacial region. (Adopted May 2018)
Oral Medicine is the specialty of dentistry responsible for the oral health care of medically complex patients and for the diagnosis and management of medically-related diseases, disorders and conditions affecting the oral and maxillofacial region. (Adopted September 2020)
Orofacial Pain is the specialty of dentistry that encompasses the diagnosis, management and treatment of pain disorders of the jaw, mouth, face, head and neck. The specialty of Orofacial Pain is dedicated to the evidenced-based understanding of the underlying pathophysiology, etiology, prevention, and treatment of these disorders and improving access to interdisciplinary patient care. (Adopted September 2020)