If you were asked to name all of the fields doctors could specialize in, you would be hard-pressed to come up with a comprehensive list. That’s because even within certain disciplines like orthopaedia there are hundreds of specialties, to say nothing for how many types of professions there are in oncology. Then there are doctors that focus their practice on just a single organ in the body, like nephrologists, cardiologists, and pulmonologists. This staggering breadth of specialties is a testament to the complexity of our bodies. Like a microscope that can magnify a subject deeper and deeper as one changes lenses, all we need to do is pick a part of the body and keep magnifying﹘we’ll find more medical degrees popping up all the time.
Not Just Pediatric Dentistry
Let’s turn our lens to the mouth. How many specialties would you say exists within dentistry? According to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are currently twelve different categories within the profession, a far cry from the general and pediatric dentistry that most people can name. Considering how important our teeth are to our day-to-day living, it is comforting to know that there is likely a dental practice that can help with any oral problems that arise. It’s important to note that anyone who graduates from dental school can run a general practice, and may perform any necessary procedure like a root canal or a crown. But in order to qualify as a specialist, applicants must appear before a national commission appointed to “protect the public, nurture the art and science of dentistry, and improve the quality of care.”
Now, what are these specialties?
These are the pain doctors. Anaesthesiologists are tasked with making sure the patients are comfortable and without pain and anxiety throughout the entirety of any surgical procedure. This specialty can treat any patient, regardless of age or reason for the surgery.
An endodontist is the nerve and root expert. Any issues deriving from the system of tissue and blood vessels found inside the tooth (commonly referred to as the pulp) is the realm of these dentists. Not only can they perform surgeries like root canals, but they can also track and treat the symptoms of infection that often make their way into the nervous system.
Oral and Maxillofacial Specialties
Each dentist﹘be they pediatric dentists, dental oncologists, or otherwise﹘is an expert in the oral health of their patients. But what does a “maxillofacial” dentist do? Maxillofacial simply means “relating to the jaws and face,” and these doctors are adept at treating the hard and soft tissues of the entire mouth region. Within the oral and maxillofacial specialty are three subcategories.
- Surgery: This one is fairly self-explanatory. These dentists are qualified to perform surgeries to treat injuries, defects, or even diseases.
- Pathology: These specialists are trained specifically to identify and track any diseases of the mouth. They will follow the progression and causes of these diseases and manage them with any type of medication or radiological treatment they deem necessary.
- Radiology: Just like with any other part of the body, radiologists are qualified to take x-rays and interpret the images they get back. They can assist in diagnosing any oral diseases or disorders that they see.
These specialists are those that work on preventing the spread of oral pathogens in a community while also promoting good dental hygiene. They are researchers, educators, public speakers, and social workers specializing in the oral health of the group as a whole, rather than the individual.
Just like any other doctor, dentists who wish to treat medical issues with medicine must be specialized to know the properties and correct use of the different types of oral and maxillofacial medicine.
Unlike anaesthesiologists who manage pain and medication during surgery, these pain experts are dentists who understand and can identify and treat chronic pain disorders of the jaw, face, mouth, head, and neck.
Orthodontics and Orthopedia
Familiar to many people, especially patients of pediatric dentists, orthodontists are equipped to treat the structural abnormalities that often accompany maturation of the mouth. These dentists can help align jaws, set crooked teeth, and otherwise help the mouth to grow into a new and easier shape.
Specializing in the treatment of children’s teeth and mouths, pediatric dentists are knowledgeable of the proper growth and oral care of the patient through their adolescence.
This specialty focuses primarily on issues with the gums and tissues that uphold or support the teeth. Periodontists will often use antibiotics to clean and shore up the gums around teeth that have suffered any degree of bone loss. The goal of a periodontist is to ensure that the tooth sits strongly in the gums so that they don’t become loose and fall out.
As is evidenced by the name, this study of dentistry uses oral prosthetics to replace or support defunct teeth. These dentists aren’t just occupied with putting hardware into the mouth, but in helping the patient to rehabilitate and help them grow into (or grow past) the prosthetic.
Your Mouth is in Good Hands
It is the goal of all dentists to ensure that their patients are taken care of, no matter the circumstances. That’s why the ADA goes to such lengths to identify these twelve specialties and accredit the dentists who become proficient in them. From the time you go see your first pediatric dentist and throughout your whole life, there will be capable doctors to help your mouth, teeth, jaws, and gums stay healthy and clean.