We are in the process of getting a new roof for our home. We have had four contractors come out to give us estimates on the new roof. But, as you know, it isn’t always the price that is at issue. Every time each contractor came out to our home, we learned something new. It wasn’t that we didn’t agree with each of the contractors. But the more knowledge we acquired of the situation, the better the opportunity we had to make the correct decision for ourselves.
We sometimes don’t take the same care with our health care opinions. And particularly when the diagnosis is complex, there are different opinions on not only the treatment, but the diagnosis itself. Different dentists have different opinions as well as different sets of experiences just as in medicine.
For example, there are varying opinions on whether teeth need to be removed or not. Saving teeth is what periodontists do for a living. Quite simply, if the tooth doesn’t hurt and isn’t loose, it can likely be saved, at least for a while. So if you are receiving a periodontal diagnosis from a dentist and that diagnosis includes extractions due to periodontal disease, it would make sense to see a periodontist for a second opinion. Periodontists can also evaluate whether it would be more predictable to save a tooth or to replace it with a dental implant.
The specialist in root canals is the endodontist. Endodontists have advanced testing instruments to determine the vitality of a tooth. And they often use microscopes to be sure that if a root canal is necessary, that every detail of that root is negotiated to increase the chance of success of that root canal.
Advanced pathology of the jaw as well as extractions are well-handled by the oral surgeon. Oral surgeons also are adept at doing major bone grafts and dental implants.
If you need tooth replacement or have bite problems, the specialty that deals with that is prosthodontics. The prosthodontist is also well equipped to restore, or place teeth on dental implants.
Tooth movement, or braces, is done by the orthodontist. For children’s dentistry, there is the pedodontist.
Pathologic specimens, or biopsies, are looked at by oral pathologists. And in dental schools especially, but also in major centers throughout the country, there are dental radiologists who are trained to look at dental x-rays and CT-Scans for the most advanced diagnosis.
Does this mean that every patient needs to see a specialist for every type of care? No. What it does mean is that you are entitled to see a specialist for any advanced problem or for any diagnosis. If you are making major decisions regarding your dental condition, if you have experienced dental failures in a relatively short period of time, or if you just want to speak to the expert in a particular area of dentistry, just ask your dentist to refer you to a specialist for an opinion. You can also make an appointment with a dental specialist without a referral. You not only may be reassured, you may learn something new in the process.
Lee N. Sheldon, DMD