General Dentist vs. Cosmetic Dentist: Who Should You See?

Man Looking at Teeth in Mirror

You know that you should see your dentist twice a year to get your teeth cleaned and checked out. Working with a general dentist can help you keep your smile as healthy as can be. But what can you do if you're concerned about the way your teeth look? Just as you'd see a cosmetic surgeon for aesthetic treatments on the body, you might see a cosmetic dentist for aesthetic treatments that improve the appearance of your teeth.

Learn more about the differences between a general dentist vs. cosmetic dentist, and find out if you need to see one or the other for the treatment you want.

What Do General and Cosmetic Dentists Do?

Your general dentist is your go-to resource for your overall oral health. As the British Columbia Dental Association notes, a general dentist typically diagnoses oral diseases, provides preventive treatments (such as cleanings), examines and interprets your X-rays and puts together treatment plans to help you achieve or maintain your oral health.

A cosmetic dentist focuses on the appearance of your teeth and gums. As the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) describes, cosmetic dentists provide a wide range of aesthetic procedures, such as teeth whitening, dental implants, teeth bonding and veneers.

Educational Requirements for a General Dentist

To become a dentist, a person needs to graduate from an accredited dental school and earn either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree or a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD) degree. As the American Dental Association (ADA) points out, DDS and DMD degrees are the same thing. Schools simply select which term to use for the degree.

Earning a dental degree prepares a person for a career as a general dentist. Just as some medical doctors pursue additional training to specialize in a particular area, some dentists may also choose to specialize in certain treatment areas. For example, they can complete additional training so that they can treat gum disease, provide orthodontic treatment or replace missing teeth. The ADA notes that there are 10 recognized dental specialties. Depending on the subject, a dentist can complete anywhere from one to eight years of additional education to earn certification in a specialty, as the ADA outlines.

Training for Cosmetic Dentists

Interestingly enough, cosmetic dentistry isn't one of the 10 specialties recognized by the ADA. However, even though it's not a recognized specialty, there are ways for a person who wants to become a cosmetic dentist to set themselves apart and complete specialized training beyond dental school.

Several programs exist that offer advanced training to dentists who wish to specialize in cosmetic dentistry or offer cosmetic dental services to patients, according to the AACD. The AACD also has an accreditation program that recognizes dentists who have passed a multiyear examination process that includes a written test, clinical cases and an oral exam. According to the AACD, there are just 350 accredited members globally, and seeing one of these dentists can help you be more confident that you are getting treatment from a highly trained professional.

Which Type of Dentist Should You See?

If you want your teeth whitened professionally, are considering veneers or are in need of a dental implant or restoration, you might wonder who should you see — a cosmetic or general dentist? It all depends. There's a chance that your general dentist might have completed additional training in the area or that they have experience performing the particular treatment you want. If not, then they will likely refer you to another dentist who has more expertise with the procedure.

If you decide to see a cosmetic dentist instead of a general dentist for treatment, it's a good idea to do some research first. The AACD also has a member directory that you can search.

Whether you decide to work with a general dentist vs. cosmetic dentist, discuss the treatment you want extensively before you begin. You'll want to get a realistic idea of what the treatment will entail in terms of time and expense and if it will give you the smile you desire.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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What To Expect During a DENTAL VISIT

On your first visit, your dentist will take a full health history. On follow-up visits, if your health status has changed, make sure to tell your dentist. Here’s what you can expect during most trips to the dentist.

  • A Thorough Cleaning – a dental hygienist or dentist will scrape along and below the gum line to remove built-up plaque and tartar that can cause gum disease, cavities, bad breath and other problems. Then he or she will polish and floss your teeth.

  • A Full Dental Examination – your dentist will perform a thorough examination of your teeth, gums and mouth, looking for signs of disease or other problems.

  • X-Rays – X-rays can diagnose problems otherwise unnoticed, such as damage to jawbones, impacted teeth, abscesses, cysts or tumors, and decay between the teeth.