As in many areas of medicine there are different aspects that sometimes require specialized treatment and attention. The same is the case in dentistry. There are a variety of specialists and practitioners that you may (or may not) need to consult with and be treated by to experience the best dental and oral health results.
If you've ever wondered what exactly these specialists do, here are some of the basics.
General dentist (GD) - A general dentist is just that. A general dentist can carry out a variety of treatments. They will do fillings, regular check ups, cleanings, and extractions. Some also do root canals, extraction of wisdom teeth, and dental reconstructions with onlays/inlays, bridges, etc.
Family Dentists - A family dentist is not really a specialty, but it means that that particular dentist is comfortable working with children.
Pedodontist - A pedodontist is a dentist who specializes and often treats only children. Some pedodontists also have surgical skills that are used in extreme cases.
Cosmetic dentists - Cosmetic dentists focus their practice on cosmetics. They concentrate on making your smile whiter and straighter, and may use dental restorations (onlays, inlays, and crowns) and teeth whitening to help improve a patient's smile. This treatment may be used in combination with other treatment by other specialists.
Endodontist - An endodontist is someone who specializes in performing root canals. They have training and skills and often equipment beyond that of a general dentist.
Orthodontists - Orthodontists specialize in moving teeth. Often tooth movement is done in conjunction with jaw movement and stabilization surgery. Sometimes the orthodontic process can be "jump started" by surgery. An orthodontist takes care of orthodontic "alignment."
Periodontists - Periodontists specialize in taking care of people's gum, particularly if there is advanced gum disease or periodontal disease that requires more care than a general dentist can provide. Periodontal treatment can involve soft tissue grafting and bone grafting, along with bacteria-killing protocols to help stabilize bacterial growth in the mouth that is causing the gum disease and associated tooth and bone loss.
Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) An Ear, Nose and Throat specialist or ENT specializes in otolaryngology...which is a fancy way of saying they treat and investigate issues that affect the ear, nose and throat. In some situations, there is a connection between the things happening in the ears, nose and throat. Sinus infections, ear infections and bad breath (halitosis) are all examples of things that can affect the ears, nose and throat.
Oral Surgeons - Oral surgeons specialize in oral surgery. The difference between them and a general dentist is their training and more extensive skills in dealing with deeper and more complicated structural issues. Oral surgeons, as a rule, do not do root canals, but they do extract wisdom teeth (especially if the teeth are impacted or are close to the inferior alveolar nerve), perform jaw repositioning surgery (major jaw or orthognathic surgery), and help treat TMJ issues. Wisdom tooth extraction and orthognathic surgery are often done in conjunction with orthodontics to ensure optimal results.
Prosthodontist - A prosthodontist is a specialist in dental prosthodontics. He or she makes dentures, bridges and other tooth restorations.
Denturist - A denturist also specializes in dentures, bridges and other tooth restorations, but don't always have the extensive training, skills and equipment that a prosthodontist has. Often used as a cheaper alternative.
Hygienist - Dental hygienists are usually the ones in a dental office that perform the dental cleanings and scalings. Some dental hygienists have branched out on their own to form their own cleaning services independent of the normal dental office, often at a fraction of the cost of a general dentist.