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Dentist FAQs

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Are dentists physicians?

The term “physician,” as it is commonly used, refers to a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) who is legally licensed to diagnose and treat the entire body as well as refer patients to specialists when indicated. The term “dentist” refers to a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) who is legally licensed to practice dentistry. Dentists often refer to themselves as “physicians of the oral cavity” because they are doctors who have specialized in oral health.

Can dentists prescribe antibiotics?

Antibiotics are prescribed by dentists for dental needs, for example, treatment of periodontitis or a dental abscess. They may prescribe antibiotics prior to doing dental procedures to prevent infection, for example, in the case of immunocompromised patients, patients at higher risk for endocarditis, and patients with a localized infection in the mouth. A topical antibiotic is sometimes placed in an infected gum pocket. The use of systemic antibiotics in dentistry is limited because research has demonstrated that most dental and periodontal diseases are best managed by operative intervention and oral hygiene measures. 

Can dentists whiten teeth?

Dentists can whiten teeth using a variety of clinical materials and methods for which they have received training. Teeth whitening in the dental office produces faster results because a stronger peroxide solution, heat, and/or light can be used to speed up the process and intensify the whitening. In the clinical setting, the dentist or a clinical team member assisting the dentist can optimally protect gum tissue with a protective gel or rubber shield.

Can dentists remove tonsil stones?

Yes, dentists can remove tonsil stones, which are relatively small deposits of debris (mostly food and dead cells) that calcify and hide inside the folds of tonsils. This is done by using the air or water syringe to spray the stones out of the folds while using suction to remove the debris.

Can dentists prescribe pain medication?

Yes, dentists may prescribe pain medications for dental pain, pain after oral surgery, or pain due to injury of the mouth. Research has demonstrated that over-the-counter non-opioid medications such as acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can be just as effective as opioids for managing most oral pain. 

Can dentists fix chipped teeth?

Yes, dentists can restore teeth that are chipped. The treatment varies according to the severity of the damage and where in the mouth it has occurred. For a small chip, tooth-colored composite can be bonded to a tooth to fill the defect. In the case of a large chip, a porcelain veneer may be recommended or a dental crown.

Can dentists do Botox®?

Each state in the U.S. independently regulates this. In some states, Botox® injections can be performed by dentists who have been educated in its administration and pharmacology and confine this treatment to the face and neck. These dentists may do Botox injections to enhance facial aesthetics and/or treat TMJ/TMD. 

Can dentists remove wisdom teeth?

Yes, general dentists can remove wisdom teeth although some situations might require an oral surgeon and many dentists prefer to refer their patients to an oral surgeon for wisdom teeth removal. Oral surgeons are trained and licensed to use IV sedation.

Can dentists go to medical school?

Dental schools commonly devote the first two years of the curriculum to the basic medical sciences, and dental students often attend classes in both the medical school and the dental school of the university they attend. After achieving their DDS or DMD degree, a few dentists go to medical school with the goal of becoming an MD or medical specialist. To become an oral surgeon, a dentist must complete at least four years in a hospital-based residency program, and there are a few universities in the U.S. that have programs designed for a DDS or DMD to complete the surgical residency program and do extended training in medicine to achieve an MD degree.

Do dentists have a residency?

A residency is not required for dentists to practice general dentistry in the U.S. The American Dental Association estimates that 35-40% of dentists do pursue residency programs immediately after graduating from dental schools. Dentists also can enter residencies after practicing dentistry for a period. There are many types of residency programs, including general dentistry, orthodontics, oral surgery, endodontics, periodontics, implants, public health, and hospital dentistry.

Do dentists do root canals?

Yes, general dentists and endodontic specialists are qualified to provide root canal treatment. A dentist may judge a root canal problem to be difficult and refer the patient to an endodontist who has more training, experience, and specialized equipment.

How do dentists clean teeth?

Most teeth cleanings are performed by a dental hygienist under the supervision of a dentist. Using a small mirror to guide her or him, the hygienist or dentist will scrape the teeth and areas just below the gum line to remove plaque and tartar. To do this, the clinician will use either a hand-held scaler or an ultrasonic powered scaler. In the latter case, water spray is used continuously to cool the instrument. After the teeth are free of plaque and tartar, the clinician flosses the teeth and brushes them with a high-power electric brush and slightly gritty toothpaste that leaves the teeth polished.

How do dentists fix cavities?

If the cavity is small, the dentist can use a tooth-colored composite resin to fill the cavity after cleaning out decay. If the cavity is large, the dentist may recommend a crown. To fill a cavity, the dentist will inject a local anesthetic to numb the area near the decayed tooth. The dentist then uses a drill to remove the decay from the affected tooth. After removing the decay, the dentist roughens the surface of the tooth, and then applies a liquid that allows a bonding agent to stick to the tooth. The dentist applies the composite resin over the liquid, molds or shapes the resin, and then hardens the material with an ultraviolet light.

How do dentists remove tartar?

Tartar is a yellow or brown colored deposit that forms when plaque hardens on your teeth. Because tartar buildup on teeth is strongly bonded to the tooth enamel, it can only be removed by a dental professional. Most teeth cleanings are performed by a dental hygienist under the supervision of a dentist. Using a small mirror to guide her or him, the clinician will scrape the teeth and areas just below the gum line to remove plaque and calcified plaque called “tartar” or “calculus.” To do this, the clinician will use either a hand-held scaler or an ultrasonic powered scaler.

How do dentists fix a chipped front tooth?

For a small chip, the dentist can bond tooth-colored composite to the tooth to fill in the defect. In the case of a large chip, a porcelain veneer may be recommended or a dental crown. 

How do dentists treat dry socket?

After a tooth is removed, sometimes the blood clot in the empty socket becomes dislodged. If this happens, the underlying bone and nerve endings are exposed, and pain occurs. This condition, known as “dry socket,” can be treated. The dentist or oral surgeon will flush the mouth with saline solution to remove any debris that could cause pain and infection, then apply a medicated gel or dressing to the socket. Over-the-counter pain medications are usually sufficient to eliminate lingering pain.

Is dentistry a good career?

Dentists enjoy excellent compensation. Demand for dentists will continue long into the future. Dentists often say they chose their career because they enjoy working with people, want to contribute to the health of patients, are intrigued by science, are good with their hands, and have an acumen for artistry. Dentists invariably say they receive satisfaction from making a real difference in their patients’ lives. Dentists have a choice of working in private practice, which includes the responsibility of managing their own business, of working in a dental group with shared business responsibilities, or of working for a dental service organization or public health organization in which they are not heavily involved in the business aspects of managing a practice. Other excellent careers in dentistry include dental hygiene, dental assisting, dental laboratory technician, and professional practice management.

Is dentistry a STEM career?

A dentist’s undergraduate and graduate science classes fall within the definition of a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. But when it comes to U.S. government programs and funding, as well as immigration status, “dentist” is not currently on the list of STEM careers.

Are dentists board certified?

All general dentists are certified by their state board of dental examiners. If you’ve noticed the words “board certified in…,” it means the dentist has completed postdoctoral training, demonstrated advanced skills, and passed nationally recognized board examinations in a special area of dentistry, for example, orthodontics, endodontics, or oral surgery.