Dentists wishing to specialize in a field need one to four additional years of training, after which they are considered specialists in that field. They are then qualified to take a board exam in that specialty and become board certified by their particular specialty group. A dentist may also receive an additional honorary title that entitles him or her to be referred to as a "fellow" of a particular group. The title "fellow" can also be obtained by a dentist who completes certain continuing education courses or becomes a member of a group. For example, members of the Academy of General Dentistry are given a certificate entitling them to use FAGD (Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry) after their names.
What Kind of Dentist do I Need?
General dentistry involves all aspects of dentistry. The general practitioner provides treatments that include filling cavities, cleaning teeth, extracting teeth, and replacing lost teeth. The general dentist may employ a dental hygienist to clean teeth. A dental hygienist must complete a two-year program of study to be certified as such.
Dentists who specialize in pediatric (children's) dentistry are called pedodontists. Some children may require special attention that only a pedodontist is trained to offer. Endodontists diagnose and treat diseased tooth pulp and perform root canal work. The replacement of missing or damaged teeth is performed by prosthodontists. A prosthodontist may specialize in either removable (dentures) or fixed (bridges) prosthetics. Prosthodontists may also perform procedures to improve the balance between the teeth, called occlusal equilibration. Oral pathologists use laboratory procedures to diagnose diseases of the mouth. The oral pathologist also specializes in forensic dentistry and identifies dead people by comparing their teeth with dental records. Periodontists treat diseases of the supporting structures of the teeth, including bone and gum tissue. Oral surgeons remove cysts, tumors, and wisdom teeth that may be too difficult for the general practitioner to remove. They also correct fractures or other jaw problems that require surgery. Cosmetic problems of the jaw and face are corrected by maxillofacial surgeons using methods similar to those of plastic surgery. Improperly positioned teeth are corrected by orthodontists.
Orthodontists use braces or other mechanical devices to move teeth into a better position.
Is the Dentist Licensed?
Dentists must be licensed to practice. Once a D.D.S. or D.M.D. is obtained, a state and national exam must be passed before a license is granted. General practitioners as well as specialists are required to complete continuing education courses every two years in order to renew their licenses.
What is the Dentist's Attitude?
Choose a dentist who is willing to take the time to answer your questions. The purpose and goal of every dental practitioner should be to help you understand the cause of your problem so that you can prevent its recurrence, and to help you choose among treatment options. However, in our fast-paced society, where time means money, a great many practitioners are unlikely to spend time with you. Choose a practitioner who can balance time and money properly.
It is also very important for a practitioner, especially a dentist, to have a caring attitude about rendering treatment. Some people associate dental treatment with pain and fear. A dentist's ability to make you feel relaxed and confident in his or her treatment is certainly an important consideration.