Dental Specialist

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What are the different types of dentists I can visit under my dental plan?

When you think of a dentist, you may think of someone who checks your teeth and makes sure everything looks okay after a cleaning. But to maintain a healthy smile, you sometimes require more care than the usual dental exam, cleaning, and checkup. Many general dentists perform many additional specialized dental procedures as complications arise, such as implants, dentures, crowns, and root canals. Some might offer cosmetic procedures as well, such as tooth whitening.

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However, as certain more serious dental conditions arise, you may need to visit a dental specialist to help correct the problem. Dental specialists are oral healthcare professionals that obtain additional training beyond what is taught in a pre-doctoral dental education program¹. Types of dental specialists include endodontists, oral surgeons, orthodontists, pediatric dentists, periodontists, prosthodontists, and more.

Dental insurance may cover all or part of treatment costs received from general dentists as well as from dental specialists, though it depends on your plan, the type of treatment received, and whether or not the dentist or dental specialist is within your provider network.

For example, if your dental insurance plan offers benefits for preventative care but does not cover major dental care, you likely would not receive coverage for treatment received from an oral surgeon. If you have a plan that does not cover cosmetic dentistry, you likely would not receive coverage for teeth whitening even if you were to receive it from your general dentist. And if you visit a dental specialist that’s outside of your provider network, you may receive fewer benefits even for covered services.

Learn more about dental specialists, what they do, and how to help save on treatment cost you receive from them.

What does a dentist do?

Dentists are doctors who specialize in oral health. A dentist’s responsibilities include²:

  • Diagnosing oral diseases

  • Promoting oral health and disease prevention

  • Creating treatment plans to maintain or restore the oral health of patients

  • Interpreting diagnostic tests and x-rays

  • Safely administering anesthetics

  • Monitoring development of the teeth and jaws

  • Performing surgical procedures on the teeth, bone, and soft tissues of the oral cavity

  • Dentists receive rigorous education and clinical training to earn a dental degree

Dentists typically receive a Bachelor of Science degree and then receive four years of training in dental school, the first two years of which are similar to medical school and the second two years of which focus on clinical practice³. After completing training, dentists must pass a national written exam and a state or regional clinical licensing exam to practice as well as meet continuing education requirements for the remainder of their careers⁴.

Is a dentist a physician?

Yes, dentists are considered physicians or doctors in their own field of medicine. Have you ever noticed how your dentist lists DDS or DMD after their name? DDS stands for Doctor of Dental Surgery, and DMD stands for Doctor of Dental Medicine, indicating the degree awarded upon graduation from dental school to become a general dentist⁵.

Both dentists and medical doctors complete several years of postgraduate training and residency programs before working in their field. They also both treat and diagnose patients. However, their specific focus differs – dentists concentrate on teeth and oral health, while medical doctors may treat injuries or illnesses that affect any part of the body. Medical doctors must go to medical school to qualify to practice medicine, while dentists attend dental school.

Dental insurance is specifically designed to cover dental treatment received from a dentist, not treatment received from a medical doctor.

What is general dentistry?

A general dentist is your primary dental care provider. He or she has many responsibilities, including diagnosing, treating, and managing your oral healthcare needs. Chances are, the dentist you visit for regular cleanings and checkups practices general dentistry.

General dentists perform many procedures to promote tooth and gum health, including root canals surgeries, fillings, crowns, and bridges, among many others. However, your general dentist may or may not be qualified or equipped to perform more specialized procedures. If not, they may refer you to a specialist or advise that you visit a specialist within your dental insurance company’s provider network.

Types of dental specialists

Beyond general dentistry, the American Dental Association recognizes twelve dentistry specializations⁶. These include:

Dental Anesthesiology

Dental anesthesiologists manage pain, anxiety, and overall patient health during dental, oral, and maxillofacial surgical or diagnostic procedures.

Dental Public Health

People who specialize in dental public health work to prevent and control dental diseases and promote dental health through organized community efforts. It serves the community as a patient rather than the individual.


Endodontists focus on the physiology and regeneration of human dental pulp. Put another way, these dental experts focus on simple to advanced root canal treatments and other types of restorative root procedures.

Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology

Oral and maxillofacial pathologists investigate the causes, processes, and effects of diseases affecting the oral and maxillofacial regions. These dental specialists may focus more on research than treating patients.

Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology

Oral and maxillofacial radiologists focus on the production and interpretation of images, data, and x-rays used for the diagnosis and management of conditions in the oral and maxillofacial region.

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons diagnose and perform surgery to treat diseases, injuries, and defects of the hard and soft tissues of the oral and maxillofacial region.

Oral Medicine

Dentists that specialize in oral medicine are responsible for the oral health care of medically complex patients. They help diagnose and manage medically related diseases, disorders, and conditions affecting the oral and maxillofacial region.

Orofacial Pain

Dentists that specialize in orofacial pain work to diagnose, manage, and treat pain disorders of the jaw, mouth, face, head, and neck.


Orthodontists specialize in diagnosing and treating malocclusions – in other words, bad bites of the teeth and surrounding structures. An orthodontist might straighten teeth using specialized bands, wires, and other corrective appliances like retainers, braces, or Invisalign to improve the look and function of one’s smile

Pediatric Dentistry

Pediatric dentists provide primary and comprehensive oral health care for infants and children through adolescence. Pediatric dentists may identify and address the onset of decay, crowding, crookedness, missing teeth, and other oral health problems. Pediatric dentists aren’t just regular dentists who decide they’d rather work with kids – pediatric dentists receive at least two additional years of training beyond dental school to learn more about the specific demands of children’s dentistry.


Periodontists diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases that occur in the gums as well as the bones of teeth. A periodontist might perform procedures such as root planing, soft tissue grafting, and bone grafting, among others.


Prosthodontists focus on the restoration of natural teeth and the replacement of missing teeth. They may utilize artificial teeth (dentures) or crowns as permanent replacements for missing or extracted teeth. Some prosthodontists may address face or jaw deformities with artificial substitutes as well.

Some dental practices may house multiple dental specialists. Other dental specialists have their own practices that are separate from general dentist clinics. Either way, visits to most of these specialists may be covered at basic or major dental insurance plan levels, though it may depend on the specific procedure administered.

Most insurance companies include both general dentists and dental specialists within their provider network. You’ll typically save the most on covered dental treatment by visiting a dentist or dental specialist that’s in-network. If you have a Guardian Direct® dental insurance plan or are considering enrolling in one, find an in-network dentist or dental specialist near you here. You can either filter for a specific specialty or search for all dental care providers near you.

Dental support specialties & Insights

Not everyone who works in a dentist’s office is a doctor of dentistry. Dental assistants, dental hygienists, and dental lab technicians all serve to support dentists and patient care in other capacities.

  • Dental assistants may assist dentists during a variety of treatment procedures, take x-rays, communicate with patients, take impressions of teeth, perform office management tasks, and more⁷.

  • Dental hygienists perform patient screening procedures, take x-rays, clean teeth, apply sealants and fluorides, teach patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies, and more⁸.

  • Dental lab technicians work behind the scenes, using molds of patients’ teeth to create dentures, crowns, veneers, orthodontic appliances, and more⁹.

Learn more about dental care and procedures covered by dental insurance:


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