Although general dentists can deliver most dental care, a patient may need care from a specialist. About 80 percent of dentists are general dentists, and 20 percent are specialists. The American Dental Association recognizes these eight dental specialties.
Endodontists save teeth with root-canal therapy, which involves the soft inner tissue (pulp) of the teeth. They can diagnose the causes of sensitive or painful teeth and may use non-surgical and surgical techniques to treat them. They also treat teeth that have suffered traumatic injuries, like cracks, or that have been avulsed (knocked out).
Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
Oral and maxillofacial pathologists identify disorders that affect the mouth and facial region. They research and diagnose conditions using clinical, radiographic, microscopic, biochemical or other examinations.
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
Often called oral surgeons, these specialists have a diverse role. They remove teeth, including wisdom teeth, and place dental implants. They perform surgery that involves the functional and aesthetic aspects of the facial bones, jaws and overlying soft tissues. They use intravenous sedation or general anesthesia in either a hospital or office setting. Oral surgeons also treat injuries to the head, jaws and facial areas. They diagnose and treat oral and facial lesions, which often include cancer.
They are the primary providers of orthognathic surgical procedures (aligning upper and lower jaws). They also treat TMJ or TMD (temporomandibular joint disorders).
Orthodontists and Dentofacial Orthopedics
Orthodontists evaluate growth of the dentofacial structures. They diagnosis malpositioned (crooked) teeth and orthognathics (improperly formed jaws). They treat these problems in children and adults by straightening teeth with braces. They work as a team with oral and maxillofacial surgeons and others to diagnose and treat orthognathic patients. They also work closely with pediatric dentists to diagnose and treat malocclusions (dental abnormalities such as an improper bite).
Pediatric dentists (pedodontists) have special training in treating children. They provide care for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special needs.
Periodontists diagnose and treat disorders of the supporting structures of the teeth – the gingival (gums) and bony tissues. They offer non-surgical and surgical treatment and may place and maintain dental implants. They often diagnose and treat diseases of the mouth and diagnose and treat temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ or TMD).
Prosthodontists diagnose and treat patients who need crowns, bridges and partial or complete dentures. They provide diagnosis and restorative work for patients who have had dental implants placed by other surgical specialists. Some prosthodontists may place and maintain dental implants themselves.
Public-health dentists treat dental diseases and promote dental health through government-controlled efforts in a community.