Who's Who at the Dental Office
A dental practice general consists of a team of dental professionals. They all have specific roles in making sure you receive the best care possible. Below are descriptions of various dental team members and the 10 different kinds of specialty dentists.
Most patients are familiar with the general dentist. The general dentist is educated to provide comprehensive services from dental examinations to dental surgery. While most dental procedures can be provided by the general dentist, a patient may be referred to a specialist if the general dentist feels special expertise is necessary. The American and California Dental Associations (ADA and CDA) recognize these 10 types of dental specialists:
Dental Anesthesiology: Dental anesthesiology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of anesthesiology encompassing the art and science of managing pain, anxiety, and overall patient health during dental, oral, maxillofacial and adjunctive surgical or diagnostic procedures throughout the entire perioperative period. The specialty is dedicated to promoting patient safety as well as access to care for all dental patients, including the very young and patients with special health care needs.
Dental Public Health: Dental public health is the science and art of preventing and controlling dental diseases and promoting dental health through organized community efforts. It is that form of dental practice which serves the community as a patient rather than the individual. It is concerned with the dental health education of the public, with applied dental research, and with the administration of group dental care programs as well as the prevention and control of dental diseases on a community basis.
Endodontics: Endodontics is the branch of dentistry which is concerned with the morphology, physiology and pathology of the human dental pulp and periradicular tissues. Its study and practice encompass the basic and clinical sciences including biology of the normal pulp, the etiology, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases and injuries of the pulp and associated periradicular conditions.
Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology: Oral pathology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of pathology that deals with the nature, identification, and management of diseases affecting the oral and maxillofacial regions. It is a science that investigates the causes, processes, and effects of these diseases. The practice of oral pathology includes research and diagnosis of diseases using clinical, radiographic, microscopic, biochemical, or other examinations.
Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology: Oral and maxillofacial radiology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of radiology concerned with the production and interpretation of images and data produced by all modalities of radiant energy that are used for the diagnosis and management of diseases, disorders and conditions of the oral and maxillofacial region.
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery: Oral and maxillofacial surgery is the specialty of dentistry which includes the diagnosis, surgical and adjunctive treatment of diseases, injuries and defects involving both the functional and esthetic aspects of the hard and soft tissues of the oral and maxillofacial region.
Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics: Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics is the dental specialty that includes the diagnosis, prevention, interception, and correction of malocclusion, as well as neuromuscular and skeletal abnormalities of the developing or mature orofacial structures.
Pediatric Dentistry: Pediatric Dentistry is an age-defined specialty that provides both primary and comprehensive preventive and therapeutic oral health care for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health care needs.
Periodontics: Periodontics is that specialty of dentistry which encompasses the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth or their substitutes and the maintenance of the health, function and esthetics of these structures and tissues.
Prosthodontics: Prosthodontics is the dental specialty pertaining to the diagnosis, treatment planning, rehabilitation and maintenance of the oral function, comfort, appearance and health of patients with clinical conditions associated with missing or deficient teeth and/or oral and maxillofacial tissues using biocompatible substitutes.
The Dental Team — Who Does What
Dentist — The dentist is responsible and accountable for everything that goes on in the dental office. Only the licensed dentist is educated and trained to diagnose dental problems, plan treatment, or prescribe medications. As long as the dentist supervises, certain phases of the dental treatment may be delegated to other members of the dental team.
Dental hygienist — The dental hygienist cleans teeth and performs other functions under the direction and supervision of a licensed dentist. There are three categories of dental hygienists: Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH); Registered Dental Hygienist in Extended Functions (RDHEF); and Registered Dental Hygienist in Alternative Practice (RDHAP).
Dental assistant — Under the supervision of the licensed dentist, the job of the dental assistant is to help the dentist at chairside, take X-rays, and perform other supportive functions. There are three categories of dental assistants: dental assistant (DA); Registered Dental Assistant (RDA); and Registered Dental Assistant in Extended Functions (RDAEF).
Receptionist — The receptionist usually greets you at the office, makes your appointments, takes insurance information, and serves as an information source for any questions you have about the office, such as special hours or policies.