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Family Dentistry: Dental Care for the Whole Family


Family dentistry, like general dentistry, provides services related to the general maintenance of oral hygiene and tooth health. The terms family dentistry and general dentistry are often used interchangeably, though there is a slight difference between the two.

Some dentists restrict their practice to certain age groups. For example, pedodontists restrict their practice to providing dental care and treatment to young children. Family dentists typically care for a wide variety of patients, from young children to older adults. Family dentists are responsible for ensuring that plaque buildup around the teeth is kept to a minimum, that tooth decay is eliminated and cavities are filled, and that gums remain healthy.

Family Dentistry Services

Because they are considered to be the first level of defense against dental abnormalities, family dentistry and general dentistry are viewed primarily as preventative fields. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that you visit your family dentist for a checkup a minimum of two times each year. Such checkups provide routine or deep cleanings to eliminate plaque buildup and prevent tooth decay. If necessary, they also provide fluoride treatments to help coat the teeth, a procedure also important in the prevention of tooth decay. Preventative dental checkups can help with the detection of oral health problems long before the onset of symptoms.

On some visits, radiographs are taken to help detect cavities and other tooth and jaw problems. If a cavity is detected during a checkup, your family dentist can provide treatment with a dental filling before it develops into a more serious problem that may require a crown, dental implant, root canal, or other restorative procedure.

Training and Practice

After earning an undergraduate degree and passing the Dental Admission Test (DAT), prospective family dentists must complete a three- to five-year dental school program that equips them with a general dentistry education. Dental school is intensive, incorporating much of the same curriculum as a typical medical school. Before graduating, students must pass the National Board Dental Examinations (NBDE) in order to become licensed dentists. After passing the NBDE, the dentist is awarded the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). DDS and DMD are different titles for the same education and degree.

Following dental school, the majority of dentists choose to move immediately into practice as a general or family dentist. Others, however, opt to pursue postgraduate training to become a specialty dentist. Nine specialty fields of dentistry are recognized by the American Dental Association:

  • Dental Public Health
  • Endodontics
  • Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology
  • Oral & Maxillofacial Radiology
  • Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Orthodontics
  • Pedodontics (Pediatric Dentistry)
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics

The amount of additional work and the duration of training depends on the type of dental specialty that a dentist pursues. For example, an endodontist requires an additional two or three years of training, while an oral and maxillofacial surgeon requires an additional four to six years.

Family and Cosmetic Dentistry

Although family dentists are typically associated with preventative and restorative dentistry, many pursue additional training in order to provide cosmetic dentistry services such as teeth whitening and porcelain veneers. Family dentists who perform cosmetic procedures normally refer to themselves as family and cosmetic dentists.

Family and cosmetic dentists have more training than typical family dentists, though they occasionally refer some people to other dentists if specialized treatments are required.

Specialists may include orthodontists (for teeth straightening), endodontists (for more complex root canal treatments), prosthodontists (for more complex crowns or for dental implants) and maxillofacial surgeons (for oral surgery). For very young children (ages four and younger), a family dentist may recommend a pediatric dentist, who has knowledge and training related to young children and early tooth health.


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