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Dental Specialists: A Breakdown

Understanding different dental specialties

What Makes a Dental Specialist Special?

Dental specialists become dentists the same way general dentists do: Complete a 4-year undergraduate (bachelor) degree, pass the Dental Admission Test, and successfully earn a dental degree to become licensed to practice as a dentist. Specialists, however, spend at least an extra two years pursuing postgraduate training in their chosen specialty before becoming board certified as a specialist.

What Type of Specialists Might I Need?

It is not uncommon for a person to visit at least one type of specialist in their lifetime. The type of specialist you might see will depend entirely on what treatment may be needed. The most common dental specialists include:


  • A pedodontist, or pediatric dentist, specializes in working with infants and children through adolescence. They also offer treatment for people with special needs.
  • When children reach adolescence, they are typically referred to a family or general dentist for their care.
  • Pedodontists perform routine services, like exams, cleanings, crowns, and fillings, but may also perform more specialty services, like root canals or pulpotomies (removal of tooth pulp) on primary teeth. In contrast, other specialists might only perform these specialty services on permanent teeth.
  • Some very young or special needs patients might not be able to sit still for dental treatment, many pedodontists provide sedation services or have hospital privileges, so they may provide dental treatment in a hospital, under anesthesia.


  • Orthodontists are specialists who focus on tooth alignment and your bite. Their advanced training includes understanding growth and development of dental, neuromuscular and skeletal defects of the orofacial structures. As a result, the specialty is formally called orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics.
  • A general dentist might refer a person with an overbite, underbite, cross bite, or misaligned teeth to an orthodontist.
  • Treatment may consist of braces, retainers, aligners, or headgear.

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon

  • Though general dentists often perform some simple surgical procedures, like extractions, people are referred to oral and maxillofacial surgeons when more complex surgical procedures or sedation is needed.
  • This type of specialist doesn't only perform dental surgery like wisdom tooth removal, they also help many patients with implant and medical procedures, like cleft lip/palate or those who need corrective surgery due to an injury to the jaws or facial bones.
  • Most oral and maxillofacial surgeons are licensed to provide all levels of sedation from laughing gas to general anesthesia.


  • Endodontists specialize in treating conditions relating to tooth pulp, where the tooth's nerve and blood vessels are located.
  • Though one treatment option for an abscessed, severely decayed, or broken/cracked tooth would be to have the tooth pulled, this may not be ideal. Instead a person may be referred an endodontist to perform a root canal in an attempt to save the tooth structure.
  • Once a root canal is completed, the endodontist will likely refer you back to your general dentist for a permanent restoration, like a crown.
  • Most endodontists will only perform advanced procedures like root canals on permanent teeth. If your child has a primary tooth that requires endodontic treatment, they may need a referral to a pediatric dentist.


  • Periodontists specialize in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of gum disease and other tissues that support the teeth.
  • You may be referred to a periodontist if you have been diagnosed with periodontitis (gum disease).
  • Some treatments a periodontist might perform are surgical, including gum grafts or periodontal pocket reduction procedures.
  • Periodontists also frequently provide dental implants.


  • Prosthodontists specialize in designing and creating replacements for teeth and other parts of the mouth. This may include providing services like dentures, bridges and partials, as well as reconstructive prosthetics.
  • Many, but not all, general dental offices provide partial and denture services at their clinics; however, they may refer a person to a prosthodontist in some instances.
  • General dentists might also refer a person with unique or absent jawbone structure, allergies to certain materials, or other medical conditions to a prosthodontist in order to best accommodate their needs.

Specialists and Dental Coverage

Dental treatment provided by a specialist can be costly. To avoid surprise costs, it is very important that you confirm that the specialist you plan to see is in-network and that the treatment planned is covered under your dental plan benefits. Blue Cross Blue Shield FEP Dental strongly recommends and highly encourages that the pre-treatment estimates be submitted for all major and extensive services prior to treatment.

Why Would I Need a Specialist?

General dentists are able to perform most dental procedures. However, there are some occasions where a procedure might be more complicated or when special tools or equipment may be needed. In these cases, your general dentist may refer you to a specialist for specialized care or simply for a second opinion.

Though many dental clinics have dental specialists on their staff, there may be times when your general dentist may refer you to a dental specialist at an external office. If your dentist feels a dental specialist is needed, they will usually provide you with a referral, which identifies both the type of specialist and treatment needed.

Note: The information in this document is not meant to replace the advice of your dentist or another licensed healthcare professional. Talk to your dentist for any specific dental advice.