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Dental professionals: Who does what?

Dentists are front-line oral health care professionals and the oral health experts. But some dental problems require the attention of a dental specialist. Do you know who you need to see? Find out here.

Woman at the dentist

“They have the skills, training and expertise to treat your teeth, gums and mouth and how they relate to your overall health,” explains Dr. Euan Swan, manager of dental programs with the Canadian Dental Association.

Dentists in Canada must successfully complete a four- or five-year university dentistry program, after which graduates become doctors of dental surgery, or DDS. Dentists from other countries must have their education and experience evaluated and might have to complete more education to qualify to work in Canada. Specialists in dentistry go on to study for another two to four years, depending on the program, after obtaining their DDS.

Like medicine’s general practitioners or family physicians, dentists see patients every day, many with such common problems as cavities and infections. But dentists also encounter more advanced problems, such as gum disease and broken teeth. Dentists are also responsible for checking for signs of disease, such as mouth or tongue cancer.

Often patients have issues that need care more specialized than dentists are able to provide. “Dentists can and will, as required, make referrals to other health specialists, such as dental specialists,” says Dr. Swan. These specialists include endodontists, periodontists and orthodontists. “Unlike the medical field, however, dental specialists do not necessarily require a referral from a general dentist.”


Some general dentists can and do perform root canals, but endodontists are the specialists in this procedure. Even if your dentist routinely performs root canals, sometimes the procedure needs a more specialized approach and should be done by an endodontist. Endodontists also perform other types of tooth procedures, such as surgery and repairing trauma to the teeth and gums.


Periodontists are the dental professionals who concentrate on issues related to gum disease as well as some aspects of cosmetic dentistry. Issues treated by periodontists include receding gums, which might require surgery, and conditions requiring dental implants. As with endodontists, some periodontal problems can be treated by a general dentist, but periodontists are the specialists in this field.

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Orthodontists specialize in the alignment of the teeth. While many people might think of orthodontics and braces only in terms of helping a child get a dazzling smile, much more is involved in this specialty.

A mouth with crooked teeth can impact oral and overall health, even if the misaligned teeth are in the back of the mouth and not noticeable. Teeth that aren’t lined up properly can cause jaw pain, problems with chewing and even migraines. Teeth that are crowded together can cause other teeth to shift as well as make it too difficult (if not impossible) to clean properly between teeth, increasing the chances of developing cavities and infections.

Dental health is an important part of overall health. While dentists don’t seem to be the most popular of health care professionals, their role is invaluable in helping you keep your smile and your health the best it can be.

More on dental care

Dental hygiene: Taking proper care of teeth and gums
Bad dental habits
Simple tips for a brighter smile

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