Choosing the Dentist with the Skills You Need

Although it may not seem like it, the mouth is a complex part of your body that requires specialized care. As a result, dentistry is a complex field with a number of specialties such as general, restorative, and cosmetic dentistry, each of which is designed to deal with a different aspect of your oral care.

These strange terms, however, can often intimidate or confuse patients—especially since there tends to be some overlap between each specialty. To help clear up some of this confusion and help you understand the differences between these areas of dentistry, we have explained each one below.

What is General Dentistry?

General dentistry involves comprehensive dental care that deals with preventing, diagnosing, and treating a variety of dental issues. Your general dentist is a lot like your primary doctor; this is who you see every six months for preventative cleanings and who you schedule an appointment with if you’re experiencing a toothache.

General dentists perform regular dental exams and preventative cleanings, diagnose cavities, gum disease, problems with your jaw, and more. They also perform a range of treatments, from filling cavities and fixing chipped teeth with dental bonding to extracting teeth.

Despite the range of treatments they’re capable of performing, a general dentist’s main goal is to prevent problems from occurring in the first place. This is done through regular preventative cleanings and by educating you on the best way to care for your teeth.

They can give you general advice on how often to brush and floss your teeth as well as more specific advice on which type of mouthwash is best for you based on your history of or risk factors for decay and gum disease.

What is Cosmetic Dentistry?

Cosmetic dentistry is a specialization that focuses on improving or renewing the appearance of your teeth. It’s commonly used to fix teeth that are crooked, discolored, or misshapen, as well as misaligned bites or gummy smiles.

The changes in your smile can be achieved using many different procedures, including tooth whitening treatments, dental bonding, veneers, dental crowns, dental implants, gum contouring, and even orthodontic treatments.

Every aspect of your cosmetic treatment is customized for you, taking into account your individual needs and goals. This type of dentistry involves artistry, as cosmetic dentists work to reshape gum lines and design crowns or veneers that complement each patient’s facial features.

If you get veneers, for example, you’re able to work with your cosmetic dentist to choose their size, shape, and shade, ensuring that they will look natural and beautiful when they’re complete.

Cosmetic dentists aim to give you a smile you love and to increase your confidence, but they don’t sacrifice the health of your teeth to do this. Cosmetic dentists are still dentists first, and would never perform a procedure that would weaken or damage your teeth. In fact, cosmetic dentists can actually help improve the health of your teeth.

Crooked teeth are harder to clean and are thus more vulnerable to decay, chipped surfaces provide a great place for bacteria to grow on, and misaligned bites can cause frequent headaches or jaw pain. Resolving any of these issues will improve the health and appearance of your smile.

While it does often have health benefits, however, what sets this form of dentistry apart from other specializations is the fact that its main goal is to improve the appearance of your smile.

What is Restorative Dentistry?

Restorative dentistry aims to restore the health and function of your teeth, gums, and jaw. It’s normally performed by general dentists but deals with much larger dental issues than small cavities, remedying issues such as broken or missing teeth, damage caused by periodontitis, and temporomandibular disorders (TMD).

Restorative dentistry often overlaps with cosmetic dentistry because it performs many of the same procedures having the added benefit of improving the appearance of your smile as well as its health. The difference is that restorative dentistry is medically necessary while cosmetic dentistry isn’t.

The issues that restorative dentistry aims to solve can cause patients daily pain or frustration. Missing teeth, for example, can make it difficult for you to eat or speak, while crooked teeth, a misaligned bite, and TMD can cause persistent headaches or jaw pain.

Restorative dentistry often uses dental crowns, implants, bridges, dentures, and orthodontics to relieve your symptoms. Dentists may also use bone or gum grafting to help reverse some of the damage caused by periodontitis.

So what’s the difference?

In simple terms, the main difference between general, cosmetic, and restorative dentistry is what they aim to accomplish.

General dentistry focuses on prevention, education, and catching issues early; cosmetic dentistry focuses on the appearance of your smile; and restorative dentistry focuses on restoring the health and function of your teeth, gums, and jaw.

Another difference is the education required to perform each type of dentistry. Dentists who focus on general and restorative dentistry must attend an undergraduate university for at least three years and complete four years of dental school to earn either a DDS or DMD degree. Although these degrees have different names, the curriculum requirements are the same for both.

Cosmetic dentistry is a recognized specialty, however, so cosmetic dentists must continue their schooling and get a doctorate to become a specialist.

Although it might sound intimidating to hear these terms thrown around at your dentist’s office, they’re simply a faster way to communicate the overall goal of your treatment. If you’re interested in any of these treatments, feel free to call our office and schedule a consultation with Dr. Van Istendal.