If you have visited a dentist and been referred to an oral surgeon, you may wonder what the difference is between the two of them. While they handle similar services, there is a lot of difference between them in terms of their education and training and the role they play in your oral health.
Dentists and Oral Care
A dentist is your primary care professional for your teeth. Everyone of every age should see a dentist twice a year to have their teeth cleaned, to get x-rays and to have their teeth examined for problems such as cavities. Seeing a dentist regularly can help you to catch small oral problems before they become larger ones that can endanger your health.
Dentists generally have some services that they provide that are outside of basic oral care. They can handle a number of problems as well as do some cosmetic dental work. They generally offer filling, bridges, crowns, veneers, sealants and tooth whitening. Some may offer other services that are helpful for the general care and health of teeth. One of their main focuses is on preventative care for the teeth and gums.
In most cases, dentists have training in many basic procedures and can assess many oral problems and treat many of the simple ones, they don’t usually have training for surgeries that are involved. When a situation needs specialization, they generally will refer their patients to an oral surgeon.
Some dentists can do treatments like tooth extractions if they are fairly simple, but if the tooth is a wisdom tooth or is infected, they generally refer the patient to an oral surgeon. If a patient needs to be sedated or to have dull anesthesia, it’s generally better for the patient to see an oral surgeon. Some will also do implants, but they often aren’t well-equipped to do them as well as an oral surgeon. The success rates of dental implants are higher when they’re done by oral surgeons according to the Journal of the American Dental Association.
Oral Surgeons and Specialties
Oral surgeons provide specialized treatments for patients who were referred to them by a dentist. They are often called oral and maxillofacial surgeons. They have an extensive education and specialized training that allows them to assess problems with the oral cavity, the teeth, the face and the jaw. They are often called on to do dental extractions as well as dental implants among other specialties.
Oral surgeons provide care that is more specialized to handle tooth problems that are more involved than what a dentist usually does. They handle problems of the face, the jaw and the oral cavity.
Some of the services that they commonly provide are tooth extractions, treating disorders of the jaw joint, placing dental implants, treating facial pain, doing biopsies of the face and oral cavity, removing tumors and other pathologies of the jaw or oral cavity, removing wisdom teeth, doing bone grafting, treating facial pain, treating disorders of the salivary glands, reconstructing the face and treating facial trauma and treating infections of the face and oral cavity. These services are generally beyond what most dentists are equipped to handle.
The Education of Dentists and Oral Surgeons
The education and training of dentists and oral surgeons is highly different to reflect the different specialties of each. Dentists have four years of college and then take the Dental Admissions Test, the DAT. Once they pass this test, they attend dental school for three to four years. They study a number of subjects including oral health, anatomy, pathology, pharmacology and physiology. They train with a licensed dentist where they get practical experience in diagnosing oral and dental problems as well as treating them.
An oral surgeon gets an undergraduate degree and then goes to dental school. There they can earn either a DDS or DMD degree. After dental school, they go through anywhere from four to eight years of training in their specialty to become extremely proficient in oral and facial care. Some oral surgeons also do a hospital residency that is another four to six years of training followed by an oral and written exam in order to be board certified.
There are also oral surgeons who go to medical school and get degrees both as a medical doctor and as a dentist. There are also some educational programs that offer medical and dental training at the same time.
If you aren’t sure whether you need a dentist or an oral surgeon for a treatment, you will usually be referred by a dentist to an oral surgeon if it is needed. However, if you still aren’t sure which you may need, you can ask your dentist to call the team at DFW Oral Surgeons to refer you for a consultation about your dental or facial issue.