A general dentist is your oral health primary care provider. He or she will perform periodic examinations of your mouth, head, and neck and diagnose problems that require treatment. A general dentist will perform most types of treatment, such as fillings, crowns, dentures, gum care, extractions, and root canals but may refer you to specialists for some types of treatment that are more complex.
A crown or “cap” is a restoration that covers the entire tooth. Crowns can help strengthen a tooth with a large filling when there isn’t enough tooth remaining to hold the filling. Crowns can also be used to attach bridges, protect a weak tooth from breaking, or restore one that’s already broken. A crown is a good way to cover teeth that are discolored or badly shaped. It’s also used to cover a dental implant.
A bridge replaces missing teeth with artificial teeth and literally “bridges” the gap where one or more teeth used to be. Bridges can be made from gold, alloys, porcelain, or a combination of these materials and are attached to surrounding teeth for support.
Removable partial dentures usually consist of replacement teeth attached to a plastic base that is the same color as your gums. A partial denture may have a metal framework and clasps that connect to your teeth or they can have other connectors that are more natural looking.
Dentures are removable appliances that can replace missing teeth and help restore your smile. If you’ve lost all of your natural teeth, whether from gum disease, tooth decay or injury, replacing missing teeth will benefit your appearance and your health. That’s because dentures make it easier to eat and speak better than you could without teeth—things that people often take for granted.
Oral radiology consists of various types of x-rays of your teeth and the bones of your jaws and other parts of your head. X-rays are ordered by your dentist after an initial oral exam to determine the appropriate type and number that are needed. Modern advances in oral radiology have substantially reduced the amount of radiation exposure required for quality images.
An implant is a specially treated metal device that looks like a screw or cylinder. It is placed into the jaw bone to replace both a lost natural tooth and its root. Because a dental implant replaces the tooth root, the bone is better preserved. If you are missing several teeth, implant-supported bridges can replace them. If you are missing all of your teeth, an implant-supported full bridge or full denture can replace them.
Cosmetic dental procedures are normally used for your front teeth when there are discolorations, spaces, chips, or pits. Some stains or discolorations can be removed with bleaching or whitening agents. Deeper stains, spaces, chips, and pits may be treated with a thin veneer of porcelain that is bonded to the tooth surface.
Periodontics is the specialty of dentistry that deals with problems of the gums and bone surrounding your teeth. The placement of dental implants has become a major part of periodontics over the past 25 years. General dentists may provide initial periodontal therapy or they may refer difficult cases to a periodontist for specialty care. Periodontic services include cleaning or “deep cleaning” of teeth, gum grafts to correct receding gums, bone grafts to correct bone height or width, removal of teeth that cannot be saved, and implant placement.
Root canal treatment, also called endodontic treatment, deals with the tooth pulp and tissues surrounding the root of a tooth. If you are experiencing tooth pain or sensitivity, if your dentist has diagnosed a cracked tooth, or if you have suffered trauma to a tooth, endodontic treatment may be the best way to fix and preserve the tooth. Most teeth that have had endodontic treatment need to be restored with a crown.
Oral and maxillofacial surgery (OMS) is a specialty of medicine and dentistry dedicated to the treatment of diseases and conditions of the teeth. Oral surgery involves extractions, including wisdom teeth, jaw bone surgery, biopsies, repair of birth defects or trauma-related injuries, tumor removal, reconstruction, and placement of implants. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are licensed to administer office-based anesthesia, including local anesthesia, conscious sedation, intravenous sedation, and general anesthesia.
Orthodontics is the dental specialty concerned with the diagnosis, prevention, interception, guidance, and correction of bad bites and crowded teeth. The purpose of orthodontic treatment is to create a healthy bite and straight teeth that properly meet opposing teeth in the opposite jaw. A good bite makes it easier for you to bite, chew, and speak. Straight, nicely aligned teeth will improve your smile.
Digital dentistry utilizes advanced computing technology (CAD/CAM) to manufacture different types of dental restorations, often in a single appointment. Digital dentistry is also used to improve the way an endodontist “sees” inside the tooth and to generate three-dimensional x-rays to assist with implant placement or other surgeries. A digital crown is made by using a wand to scan the prepared tooth, inputting the scanning data to a computer, and milling the restoration from a porcelain or metal block, based upon the computer data.
Oral medicine is a dental specialty that diagnoses and treats persistent orofacial pain, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems, oral problems that are related to systemic diseases (such as diabetes, HIV, autoimmune conditions, and others), and the oral side effects of some medications. An oral medicine specialist is often a general dentist who has received two to three years of additional education.
Advanced general dentists receive one to three years of additional training after they become general dentists. These dentists perform complex types of dental treatment, oral surgery, intravenous sedation, and general anesthesia. They often are the oral health professionals who treat patients with developmental or acquired disabilities. They also provide treatment and clearance for patients who are being prepared for organ transplantation, radiation, or chemotherapy.
With advances in preventive dentistry, most people in the U.S. are entering the 6th decade of life and beyond with their natural dentition. Geriatric dentistry is the delivery of oral health care to these older adults and focuses on preventing and treating oral diseases that are more common in them. Geriatric dentistry also considers the general health of the older patient and all medications that are being taken because these things can affect oral health and oral health can affect general health.
Some people have such a profound fear of oral health care that they avoid it until a problem becomes intolerable. Delaying treatment of small problems until they become large problems only increases the complexity of the treatment. There are programs for these patients that involve working with a clinical psychologist before and during dental treatment. These programs gradually desensitize the fearful patient so that regular preventive care can be obtained comfortably.
Oral cancer is divided into two categories – those occurring in the oral cavity (your lips, the inside of your lips and cheeks, gums, the front two-thirds of your tongue and the floor and roof of your mouth) and those occurring in the oropharynx (middle region of the throat, including the tonsils and base of the tongue). Early detection results in better treatment outcomes. While a general dentist will perform an oral cancer examination at your initial and recall appointments, oral surgeons are the specialists to remove and treat oral cancers.