Should you see a dentist or oral surgeon? Dentists and oral surgeons both specialize in care of the teeth and they both wear Cherokee uniforms, but there is a significant difference between them.
Dentists are medical specialists who specialize in the treatment and care of the teeth. They attend dental school after acquiring a four year degree in premedical or biology from a college or university. After graduating an accredited program and passing dental board exams in the state in which they wish to practice, they receive a D. D. S. degree, or doctor of dental surgery.
Dentists help keep teeth healthy by doing prophylactic, or preventative cleaning of the teeth. They also perform examinations of the mouth visually, and if necessary, with x-rays. Visiting a dentist regularly helps keep people free of decay of the teeth, known as dental caries or cavities. Cavities are caused by bacteria in the mouth and are considered the most common type of human disease.
Dentists will drill out cavities and replace them with fillings, to keep the tooth intact and functional. If a cavity is left to decay too long, other parts of the tooth will erode and may expose the root, or nerve of the tooth causing pain.
As doctors, dentists also will note any changes in the appearance of gums, lips, throat and lining of mouth. Dentists will also perform simple extractions and root canals. They may recommend patients to oral surgeons for various reasons outside the scope of their own practice.
Many dentists help patients keep their smile looking healthy by providing proper training in care of the teeth and services such as teeth whitening. Dentists can help patients who have had injuries to the teeth and replace or cover teeth that have been injured or damaged by decay with a crown or cap. This is a natural looking tooth covering made to match natural teeth and work as a real tooth would. They take molds of the patients’ teeth and with the help of a dental laboratory can replace a single tooth, a crown or several with a bridge. A bridge is removable by the patient.
Dentists will fit patients with these coverings to replace teeth damaged by large cavities, trauma or other infection. They may fit patients with a bite guard to reduce damage caused by grinding or clenching of the teeth.
Oral surgeons perform surgery on the mouth. Oral surgeons have 4-6 years of additional university training than general dentists. Dentists will refer patients to oral surgeons for complicated root canals, impacted teeth (teeth that are growing in but not coming through the gum line), jaw misalignment, jaw surgery, bone grafts to the jaw because of disease and dental implants.
Oral surgeons may limit their practice to treat only children (a pedodontist), root canal (endodontist), gum disease (periodontist), orthodontics (straightening teeth or correcting bite) or cosmetic dentistry. Oral surgeons will also treat facial trauma (injury) or oral pathology or disease of the mouth such as cancer of the tongue, palate or mucous membranes of the mouth. Some may do facial reconstruction. Others may specialize in jaw alignment and tempuromandibular joint disease (TMJ) from clenching teeth.