We all are aware of what an important role our dentist plays in our overall oral health. He or she is your “go-to” clinician for routine procedures that include teeth cleanings, cavity fillings, sealants, crowns and other restorations. To become a dentist, each has completed a post-graduate, four-year doctorate degree in dentistry. For procedures outside the scope of their training, a dentist will generally refer patients and coordinate treatment with a specialist.
For nearly 35 years, I have been a specialist, more specifically, an oral surgeon. After five years of post-graduate education, I graduated from The University of Texas Health Science Center. In 1983, I joined Northwest Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, earned my board-certification, and pursued my commitment to providing the best oral surgical care for my patients. I can honestly tell you that I think I have seen it all. I’ve seen patients in my office who have had remarkable dental work, including beautiful restorations and perfectly aligned teeth. And, on the flip side, I have seen some very scary conditions as a result of inadequate dental care. Unfortunately, these abominable dental cases are usually a result of patients trusting their care to general dentists who have become known as “super-generalists,” or super-general dentists.
Have you encountered a super-general dentist? His or her office promotes itself as capable of handling all dental issues for the sake of time and convenience. Before you agree to allow your general dentist to perform procedures, find out a few things:
- Does your general dentist rightfully possess the necessary qualifications to perform the prescribed procedure?
- Has your general dentist had post-graduate training to perform the procedure?
- Is there a specialist in your community that specializes in the procedure that has been prescribed?
- Does your general dentist have the right equipment and trained staff to perform the procedure?
- Has your dentist enrolled in legitimate continuing education courses?
- What is the motivation behind offering procedures beyond his or her training?
If you are not comfortable with the answers to the questions above, there are many dental specialists that are properly trained and prepared to treat you:
- Oral Surgeon: Experts in mouth, face and jaw surgery
- Periodontist: Experts in treating periodontal disease (gums)
- Orthodontist: Experts in the treatment of improper bite and crooked teeth
- Pediatric Dentist: Experts dedicated to the oral health of children from infancy through 16 years old
- Prosthodontist: Experts in the esthetic restoration and replacement of teeth
When your general dentist refers you to a specialist, you can feel confident that he or she has your best interest at heart. He acknowledges the limitations of his training and appreciates the expertise of a specialist. So, before agreeing to advanced dental procedures in your general dentist’s office, consider consulting with a specialist. Beware of the dentists that claim to do it all. As an oral surgeon, I want all of my patients, family and neighbors to have the best treatment possible. Seek second opinions and seek specialists. And, if you have any doubts, feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. M. James Clark is a board-certified oral surgeon specializing in wisdom teeth extractions, implant dentistry and the treatment of other conditions of the mouth, face and jaw. Dr. Clark practices at the Technology Forest office of Northwest Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery.