Who’s who in dentistry?
If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between a periodontist and a prosthodontist, you’re not alone. Wonder no more, though, because we’re going to reveal all by providing you with a quick introduction to the different members of the dental team.
Meet the dental professionals
All of the specialists and dental care professionals working in the UK are regulated by the General Dental Council. The GDC’s job is to ensure that clinicians maintain a high level of knowledge and provide the best quality care to patients. They can assist with patient complaints and help to support communication between dental professionals and the government.
General dentists undergo five years of training at dental school, followed by one or two years of supervised work. They are trained to provide a wide range of services including dental health checks, fillings and cosmetic treatments such as tooth bonding. They play an active role in providing preventative care and will often be a patient’s first point of contact. Many dentists develop an interest in a particular area of dentistry, for example orthodontics or cosmetic dentistry, and may undertake further or specialist training in these areas.
Dental therapists (not to be confused with dental hygienists) support the dentists by carrying out a number of routine treatments, for example fillings and dental health checks. In the UK, dental therapists hold either a diploma or degree in dental therapy.
Dental hygienists complete their training over 2-3 years and hold either a diploma of higher education; a foundation degree; or a degree in an oral health or a dental hygiene related subject. Once qualified, dental hygienists spend a large proportion of their time cleaning teeth and educating patients on how to look after their teeth. Other treatments that dental hygienists can provide include X-rays, fissure sealants and fluoride treatments. Many patients see a hygienist for regular appointments to keep on top of their oral hygiene.
Orthodontic therapists work alongside a dentist or specialist orthodontist to carry out routine orthodontic treatments. It is a relatively new role and the majority of the training is carried out in practice where trainees are supervised at every appointment. At the end of their training, therapists graduate with a Diploma in Orthodontic Therapy. Once they are qualified, they work to the prescription of a dentist or orthodontist and can only carry out non-invasive, reversible treatment.
In the UK there are a number of specialist areas within dentistry, which are recognised by the GDC. Dentists who undergo GDC-approved training can join the specialist list and refer to themselves as a ‘specialist’ in a particular area.
Specialist orthodontists treat and prevent irregularities of the teeth and jaws, using a range of fixed, removable and even invisible braces. Specialist orthodontic training takes a minimum of three years and includes a mixture of theory and hands-on learning. Some orthodontists work for the NHS – providing treatment to those who need it for dental health reasons (mainly under 18s), while many also provide private treatment to the growing number of adults looking for cosmetic improvements. Specialist orthodontists will also work with other specialists such as oral surgeons to treat more complex cases.
A periodontist is a dental specialist who treats the bone, gum and connective tissues that support your teeth. After graduating as dentists, specialist periodontists undertake a further three years of training in periodontics. Their role in the dental team is to diagnose and treat periodontal diseases, usually when cases become more advanced. The early signs and symptoms of gum disease will often be detected and treated by your dentist or dental hygienist. If no action is taken, gum disease can result in bone, gum and even tooth loss. In fact, gum disease is the biggest cause of tooth loss among adults.
Endodontists specialise in treating problems that affect the inside of your teeth, for example inflamed pulp that is caused by severe decay or trauma. When damage to the inside of a tooth becomes irreversible an endodontist may recommend root canal treatment to save the tooth – this is why they are sometime referred to as ‘specialists in saving teeth’. Specialist endodontic training takes dentists three years to complete. While general dentists are well equipped to diagnose endodontic problems and carry out root canals, endodontists will have the expertise to treat the most challenging cases.
A specialist prosthodontist is a dentist who focuses on the restoration of teeth, having completed three years of specialist training in prosthodontics. Their day-to-day work involves restoring damaged or missing teeth using crowns, bridges, veneers, implants and dentures. Again, these are treatments that general dentists can provide, but a prosthodontist is likely to have more experience and knowledge of treating complicated cases, for example full mouth restorations. It is common for a prosthodontists to work closely with other dentists and specialists such as endodontists and oral surgeons.
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are dentists who have undergone four years of specialist training to treat problems affecting the head, face, neck, jaws and teeth. Treatments undertaken by an oral surgeon in a hospital setting typically include jaw surgery; cleft lip and palate surgery; and the removal of impacted wisdom teeth (wisdom teeth that don’t have enough space to erupt). Other procedures can include placing dental implants and carrying out associated bone grafts. Oral surgeons also help to diagnose and treat certain forms of mouth cancer.
In addition to the dental professionals we’ve mentioned above, the General Dental Council also recognises specialists in the following areas: special care dentistry, paediatric dentistry, restorative dentistry, dental public health, oral medicine, oral microbiology, oral and maxillofacial pathology, dental and maxillofacial radiology.
Now that you know who’s who in dentistry, meet the team at Sensu.