Most patients are familiar with the GENERAL DENTIST. The general dentist is educated to provide comprehensive services from dental examinations to dental surgery. While most dental procedures can be provided by the general dentist, a patient may be referred to a specialist if the general dentist feels special expertise is necessary. The American and California Dental Associations (ADA and CDA) recognize these nine types of dental specialists:
- DENTAL PUBLIC HEALTH – Coordinates and administers community-wide dental care programs, including public education on the prevention of dental disease.
- ENDODONTICS – Deals with the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease and injuries of the internal soft tissue of the tooth (root canals).
- ORAL AND MAXILLOFACIAL PATHOLOGY – Researches the causes, development, and effects of oral diseases.
- ORAL AND MAXILLOFACIAL RADIOLOGY – Uses imaging and associated technology for diagnosis and management of a range of diseases affecting the mouth, jaw, and related area of the head and neck.
- ORAL AND MAXILLOFACIAL SURGERY – Treats injuries and deformities, extracts teeth, and performs surgery of the mouth, jaw and face.
- ORTHODONTICS AND DENTOFACIAL ORTHOPEDICS – Prescribes and places corrective devices, such as braces, to align teeth and improve health and appearance.
- PEDIATRIC DENTISTRY – Specializes in the dental health of children from birth through adolescence.
- PERIODONTICS – Treats diseases of the gums.
- PROSTHODONTICS – Designs and fits bridge-work and dentures.
Members of the Dental Team — Who Does What
The dentist is responsible and accountable for everything that goes on in the dental office. Only the licensed dentist is educated and trained to diagnose dental problems, plan treatment, or prescribe medications. As long as the dentist supervises, certain phases of the dental treatment may be delegated to other members of the dental team.
The dental hygienist cleans teeth and performs other functions under the direction and supervision of a licensed dentist. There are three categories of dental hygienists: Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH); Registered Dental Hygienist in Extended Functions (RDHEF); and Registered Dental Hygienist in Alternative Practice (RDHAP).
Under the supervision of the licensed dentist, the job of the dental assistant is to help the dentist at chairside, take X-rays, and perform other supportive functions. There are three categories of dental assistants: dental assistant (DA); Registered Dental Assistant (RDA); and Registered Dental Assistant in Extended Functions (RDAEF).
The receptionist usually greets you at the office, makes your appointments, takes insurance information, and serves as an information source for any questions you have about the office, such as special hours or policies.