Most patients are familiar with the general dentist. The general dentist is educated to provide comprehensive services from dental examinations to dental surgery. While most dental procedures can be provided by the general dentist, a patient may be referred to a specialist if the general dentist feels special expertise is necessary.
The American and California Dental Associations (ADA and CDA) recognize these nine types of specialist:
Deals with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease and injuries of the internal soft tissue of the tooth (root canals).
Treats injuries and deformities, extracts teeth and performs surgery of the mouth, jaw and face.
Prescribes and places corrective devices, such as braces, to align teeth and improve health and appearance.
Specializes in the dental health of children from birth through adolescence.
Treats diseases of the gums.
Designs and fits bridge-work and dentures.
Coordinates and administers community-wide dental care programs, including public education on the prevention of dental disease.
Uses imaging and associated technology for diagnosis and management of a range of diseases affecting the mouth, jaw, and related area of the head and neck.
Researches the causes, development and effects of oral diseases.
The dentist is responsible and accountable for everything that goes on in the dental office. Only the licensed dentist is educated and trained to diagnose dental problems, plan treatment or prescribe medication.
As long as the licensed dentist supervises, certain phases of dental treatment may be delegated to other members of the dental team.
The dental hygienist cleans teeth and performs other functions under the direction and supervision of a licensed dentist.
There are two categories of dental hygienist:
1. Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH)
2. Registered Dental Hygienist in Extended Functions (RDHEF)
The dental hygienist (RDH) uses knowledge and skills to help prevent and detect oral disease, clean teeth, apply preventive materials to the teeth, and instruct patients in all facets of oral hygiene.
The RDHEF may perform all the duties of an RDH plus has completed additional education/training that allows them to perform additional duties beyond those allowed for an RDH.
The RDHAP may perform all the duties of an RDH plus has completed additional education/training that allows them to perform additional dental hygiene services in several settings outside the dental office, which include residences of the homebound, schools, residential facilities, and other institutions.
Under the supervision of the licensed dentist, the job of the dental assistant is to help the dentist at chairside, take x-rays, and perform other support functions.
There are three categories of dental assistant:
1. Dental Assistant (DA)
2. Registered Dental Assistant (RDA)
3. Registered Dental Assistant in Extended Functions (RDAEF)
Under the supervision of the licensed dentist, the dental assistant (DA) may perform duties such as preparing patients for dental treatment, preparing materials to be used in dental procedures, assisting the dentist at chair side, and taking and processing x-rays. This category does not hold a license.
The RDA performs all of the tasks and procedures of the dental assistant, but because of their licensure status are permitted to perform other dental treatment procedures within the scope of their license.
Like the RDA, the RDAEF can perform all of the tasks and procedures that dental assistants are able to perform, but as a result of their additional education/training and licensure, are allowed to perform additional dental treatment procedures within the scope of their license.
In addition the RDA and RDAEF can pursue additional specialty permits. The two permits that can be earned are the Orthodontic Assistant Permit and the Dental Sedation Permit. Both of these designations allow for additional functions to be performed. By designations require additional training and testing.
Dental offices are required to post a list of allowable dental auxiliary duties in the office.
The receptionist generally greets you at the office, makes your appointments, takes insurance information and serves as an information source for any questions you have about the office, such as special hours or polices.