Caring for your oral health may occasionally require you to see more than just a general dentist. There are periodontists, orthodontists, endodontists, and an array of other specialists. Oral surgeons may also be required, depending on what’s going on with your teeth.
As the name suggests, an oral surgeon can provide surgery, but it isn’t the only thing they do. Likewise, you may be confused since a dentist can also perform some types of surgeries.
But what’s the difference between a dentist and an oral surgeon? Here’s what to know so you’ll know who to see.
What Is a Dentist?
A dentist is a doctor who specializes in both preventative care and treating problems for your teeth and gums. You should schedule dental checkups and cleanings with a dentist every 6 months to keep your mouth healthy. If you have oral health issues, you will need to see your dentist more often than that.
What a Dentist Does
Dentists have many responsibilities. They help you prevent cavities with fluoride treatments. If you have a cavity, they will fill it or may need to add a crown to treat the decay in your tooth.
If you have a deep cavity or a cracked tooth, your dentist will perform a root canal. They go deep into the tooth where the pulp is located and treat the infection. This will prevent future problems and stop any tooth pain. Moreover, when faced with an emergency dental situation like a cracked tooth Winnipeg, a skilled dentist is readily available to provide immediate care and expertly repair the damage to relieve your pain and restore your oral health.
Dentists will also require you to get X-rays each year. While they can spot many issues on your teeth, X-rays give them a deeper look into your teeth and gums. X-rays are also ideal for keeping track of your children’s teeth, allowing the dentist to see when permanent teeth are coming in and if things are aligning properly.
One of the most common reasons for you to visit your dentist is for a teeth cleaning. While the dental hygienist often completes this task, the dentist is the one who comes in to check on your teeth and make sure your mouth is healthy.
If you’ve lost any teeth and need dentures or partials, your dentist will create the molds for them to make sure they fit your mouth properly. They will show you how to use these dental items and help adjust them for your comfort.
Your dentist will also develop a treatment plan to help you improve your oral health. They may suggest you stay away from sugar altogether or use specific home dental care equipment, such as an electric toothbrush.
One of the things that can make people confuse a dentist for an oral surgeon is that dentists do extractions. However, they do basic tooth removal, not complex or invasive extractions.
What Is an Oral Surgeon?
On the other hand, oral surgeons specialize in surgery on the teeth, gums, and other areas around the mouth. They can perform other treatments or surgery areas in otolaryngology, which involves the ears, nose, and throat, which interact often with the mouth.
What an Oral Surgeon Does
If you need any of the services an oral surgeon provides, your dentist will refer you to one. When that happens, this means you will need something more complicated beyond what your dentist can do.
An oral surgeon will provide tooth extractions, though these will be more complex surgeries, such as the removal of wisdom teeth. Another thing an oral surgeon will do is help you with procedures for dental implants. These dental procedures involve securing a dental prosthetic that looks like your regular teeth to your jaw bone. Once complete, no one will be able to tell the difference between your own teeth and the dental implants.
Corrective jaw surgery is another procedure your oral surgeon can do. Also known as orthognathic surgery, it helps repair any issues with your jaw, resulting in realigned jaws and teeth. You’ll enjoy better function if you have this procedure and find chewing easier. This surgery can also correct any issues you may have with swallowing and improve sleep apnea.
An oral surgeon also helps with facial trauma from any kind of accident. Whether you were in a car accident or playing sports, an oral surgeon can help you with teeth that have fallen out. They can also help if your jaw was dislocated or your bones around the jaw were fractured. They make a detailed plan of how to help treat your facial traumas.
Those that suffer from temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) will also want to see an oral surgeon. TMJ causes pain and discomfort in the joint that connects the jaw with the skull. Your oral surgeon may be able to help come up with at-home treatment options or perform the required surgery to help improve the function of this joint.
Tumors found in and around the mouth need to be taken seriously. An oral surgeon will remove these tumors in and around your mouth, or even provide radiation therapies to treat oral cancer.
Another thing your oral surgeon can do is remove soft tissues, such as from your gums. Gum grafting is a common procedure which helps keep your gums from receding. Your oral surgeon is also capable of administering anesthesia for these procedures, allowing you to be comfortable during your surgeries or treatments.
Differences in Training and Education
Both dentists and oral surgeons start with the same training and education. They must receive a bachelor’s degree in pre-medicine or pre-dentistry. Then, they go to dental school, followed by a graduate program.
The graduate program features four years of coursework and includes hands-on training prior to taking the licensure exam. Once they pass, they can get their license for general dentistry.
Those desiring to be specialists in the field of dentistry, such as oral surgeons, will need to complete a surgical residency that lasts 4 to 6 years at an accredited residency. Once completed, an oral surgeon will need to pass an exam to get board certification.
Essentially, oral surgeons have the same education and training as dentists, with an added 4 to 6 years of surgical training.
Differences in Tasks
Your general dentist is the primary oral health provider that you see on a regular basis. This is who you will visit to have your teeth cleaned, get X-rays of your teeth, and have any cavities filled. General dentists also provide other treatments, such as crowns, dentures, and bridges.
Oral surgeons, also called maxillofacial surgeons, are needed when you must have surgery to treat your jaw, mouth, or face. They can perform tooth extractions, especially on wisdom teeth. They are responsible for more complex surgeries like removing tumors, realigning the jaw, performing soft tissue biopsies, positioning implants, and performing reconstructive surgery after accidents.
There is some overlap between what dentists and oral surgeons perform in their roles. Both can extract teeth and complete basic surgeries, though the oral surgeon will handle more complex procedures.
Differences in Pain Management Techniques
Your dentist can use anesthesia on you to help you feel more comfortable during any treatment. However, an oral surgeon has training in administering both anesthesia and IV treatments. This gives you greater options, and depending on your preferences, can more easily accommodate you during your surgery. If you need a more intricate oral surgery, your oral surgeon will better be able to help you with an array of pain management options.
Should I See a Dentist or an Oral Surgeon?
Generally, you will visit your general dentist first for preventative oral care. If you need any dental work that goes beyond your dentist’s realm, they will recommend you see an oral surgeon.
Most of the time, your dentist can perform a simple tooth extraction, but if you have an impacted wisdom tooth, they will request that you schedule an appointment with an oral surgeon instead. You’ll likely be given a referral to a local oral surgeon who they feel is capable of handling the task. You are free to choose any oral surgeon in your area, though your dentist may recommend someone in your network to make this less of a burden on you.
More complex situations with chances of complications will always be best handled by an oral surgeon. If your dentist has told you that they will be referring you to an oral surgeon, you should trust that judgment.
Anesthesia is another reason your dentist may suggest you see an oral surgeon. While dentists have anesthetic options, they are much more limited than what an oral surgeon can provide. Your dentist can only provide basic anesthesia during your procedures though an oral surgeon can do much more to ensure you don’t feel any pain or discomfort during the surgery.
If you do not need surgery, you will not need to see an oral surgeon. A general dentist can help you with preventative dental care for problems like toothaches, cavities, or chipped teeth.
Park Crossing Dentistry can help answer your questions about whether or not you need to see a general dentist or an oral surgeon.