General dentistry involves the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of a wide range of dental conditions, as well as the maintenance of overall oral health, in people of all ages. Although there are several different dental specialties, general dentistry encompasses the basics of all of them.
Many dental conditions damage teeth, causing aesthetic and functional issues that require special treatment. Depending on the extent of their damage, teeth can be repaired or replaced with restorative treatments, which include fillings, crowns, bridges, dental implants, dental bonding, and full or partial dentures.
Many people seek cosmetic dental care because of damage caused by various dental conditions, or because of dissatisfaction with how their teeth look. Cosmetic procedures can improve the color, shape and size of the teeth, and enhance the overall smile, building self-confidence. Some of the most popular cosmetic dental treatments include teeth-whitening, porcelain veneers, and full-mouth reconstruction.
Periodontics typically focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of periodontal disease (gum disease). Gum disease is a broad term that encompasses several different conditions, including gingivitis. Gum disease can be managed through treatments such as scaling and root planing. Surgery and types of advanced treatments are often performed for later stages of periodontal disease.
Endodontic treatment is needed when dental pulp becomes infected or inflamed. A root canal is the most commonly performed endodontic procedure. Pulp can become damaged from a cracked tooth or dental infection, and should be removed to prevent toothache, bone loss, discoloration and swelling.
Prosthodontics is the branch of dentistry that restores missing teeth. Although many people use prosthetic replacements for cosmetic purposes, prosthetic dentistry also treats medical conditions, and promotes oral health. Damaged and/or missing teeth can lead to dental conditions such as gum disease and infection, and result in additional tooth loss.
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
Oral and maxillofacial surgery is the treatment of problems affecting the mouth, teeth, gums, jaws and related facial structures. Procedures are often performed on patients with skeletal and dental irregularities caused by congenital defects, injury, disease or other factors. Maxillofacial surgery is also performed to treat patients with oral cancer or jaw cysts.
When a patient has a suspicious growth in, or condition of, the mouth, determining its cause is essential. Symptoms, such as lesions, that seem minor may be indicative of a more-serious problem. To ensure an accurate diagnosis and appropriate care, a patient should be examined by an oral pathologist or oral-disease specialist.
Neuromuscular dentistry is the area of dentistry that focuses on the teeth, nerves, muscles and joints as they relate to the jaw. By combining the principles of anatomy and physiology, neuromuscular dentistry works to achieve an optimal bite (occlusion), and jaw alignment.
General dentists often refer patients with complicated issues to a specialist in one of the above fields. It is also possible that a patient 65 years or older might be referred to a geriatric specialist, whereas one 18 years or younger might be referred to a pediatric dentist.
- Medline Plus
- National Institutes of Health
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
- U.S. National Library of Medicine