Our guide to Understanding The Different Types of Dental Specialists

Sometimes people ask us about what we do as endodontists. If they’ve never had a root canal, they may be unfamiliar with the term “endodontics.” The same is true for other types of dental specialists.

This guide is intended to inform our patients and the general public about the many diverse types of dental specialists. Oral health is a highly sophisticated art and science, so depending on your needs, you may need to see a specialist at some point in your life.

This article isn’t a substitute for personalized dental care. Every person is unique, which is why there are so many different areas of expertise within dentistry.

Know Your Dental Specialists: Our Guide

General Dentist

Most likely, you know at least one general dentist. Building a relationship with a general dentist is the foundation of maintaining oral health throughout your life. Your general dentist’s team provides your regular oral health examinations and cleanings, and they teach you the fundamentals of good oral hygiene.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), a general dentist completes dental school by earning either a DDS (doctor of dental surgery) or DMD (doctor of dental medicine) and earns their license. Some dentists opt for additional training to become a specialist.

Sometimes, your general dentist may need to refer you to a specialist. This could be because you need a procedure that’s outside their wheelhouse, or they want you to get a second opinion. In this case, you can count on your general dentist to coordinate your overall care. They’re like your “home base” of dentistry.

Even though by definition, a general dentist isn’t a dental specialist, we included them in this list to offer context for the extra training dental specialists complete. A skilled general dentist is the foundation of your dental care, but not everyone needs a specialist in their lives. Your general dentist should be able to identify whether you need a specialist and make a referral.


An orthodontist may be one of the most common dental specialists a person encounters. If you’ve ever had braces, you’re very familiar with orthodontics! They specialize in correcting teeth and jaw alignment using braces, clear aligners like Invisalign, retainers, and other devices.

The American Association of Orthodontists states that a qualified orthodontist first completes dental school like a general dentist before moving on to specialized training in orthodontics and becoming board-certified. If you need to improve your teeth’ alignment, an orthodontist makes personalized recommendations and implements the appropriate treatment to re-shape your smile.


While general dentists often effectively treat lower levels of gum disease, sometimes they refer patients to a periodontist for more complicated or severe cases. A periodontist is an expert in diagnosing, preventing and treating gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) and oral inflammation. A periodontist may also specialize in crown lengthening, gum grafts and dental implants. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, periodontists complete a three-year training program beyond dental school. 

Oral or Maxillofacial Surgeon

An oral surgeon is exactly what you may have guessed – a dentist who is also a qualified surgeon. They often work closely with ear, nose, and throat specialists (ENTs).

Oral surgeons treat issues with both soft and hard tissues within the mouth, jaws, and face. They may perform surgical procedures related to oral and head cancers, restoration after trauma from an accident, correction of cleft palates, dental implant placement, or a range of other conditions. Oral surgeons also perform routine procedures like extracting wisdom teeth.

The American College of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons describes the normal educational path as attending dental school, followed by the completion of a medical degree and residency training.


A prosthodontist may help repair or replace the teeth or jawbones. The term is a compound term referencing “prostho,” meaning replacement, and “dontist,” meaning dealing with teeth. This dental specialist completes full mouth rehabilitation cases and is the true cosmetic dentist.

According to the American College of Prosthodontists, these specialists complete at least three years of advanced training after dental school through a CODA-accredited prosthodontic graduate program.


As you may have guessed, a pedodontist is also known as a pediatric dentist. That’s right, these are dentists who specialize in providing care to children ages one to 13. Because children’s bodies are still growing, they sometimes have different dental needs than adults. Pedodontists are experts in child dental development and recognizing and treating common and rare dental conditions in children. They typically see children aged six months through 13 years of age.

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, these dentists are “big experts in little teeth.” After graduating from dental school, a pedodontist completes an additional two years of residency training focused on treating infants, children, and teenagers.


As endodontists, this specialty is closest to our hearts; after all, it is our life’s work! An endodontist focuses on diagnosing the source of tooth pain and providing root canals and related treatments. We are specialists who treat the interior of the tooth.

Endodontists strive to save and maintain our patients’ natural teeth whenever possible. This provides for a better sense of wellness, less risk of the body rejecting the treatment (as sometimes happens with implants), and a more confident smile.

According to the American Association of Endodontists (AAE), a qualified endodontist completes at least two years of specialized training after graduating from dental school.

Sometimes patients ask why they should see an endodontist when their general dentist can perform a basic root canal. The AAE reports that the average dentist may perform an average of two root canals per week, after all — but endodontists truly are the experts, because they may perform 25 root canal treatments each week!

In addition to having more experience with root canals, an endodontist accesses the latest tools, techniques, and best practices in restoring and saving teeth.

Choosing the Right Specialist for Your Needs

Now that you know about some of the most common dental specialists, you will be better equipped to choose the right one if you or a family member needs specialized care.

We included links to professional associations for each specialty, since they publish resources to help consumers find the right dentist, and they usually provide directories. In addition, your general dentist may recommend specific specialists in your area.

We at Ballantyne Endodontics have had the privilege of treating Charlotte-area residents since 2008. We have referral relationships with many of the area’s best general dentists and other specialists. If you need an endodontist, ask your dentist for a referral, or call us for more information.