Prosthodontics: How This Dental Specialty Can Help You

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What do your grandmother, your toddler and a hockey player have in common? Whether it's because of age, a playground accident or a sports injury, they all might need prosthodontics at some point.

A prosthodontist isn't the specialist most commonly associated with tooth repair, but they're certainly the most valuable in addressing the various challenges that come with dental restoration and missing teeth. If you've been referred to one or want to seek out help for any restorative tooth procedure, here's what prosthodontists do and what you can expect before you attend your first appointment.

What Is a Prosthodontist?

A prosthodontist is responsible for "the restoration and replacement of your teeth," notes the University of Michigan School of Dentistry (UMSD). Though you might think of an orthodontist or even your general dentist first for anything from a broken crown to improving teeth alignment, prosthodontists are the specialists and experts who have the most training when it comes to many cosmetic restorative treatments.

These specialists have three years of additional training in restorative and replacement procedures, since prosthodontics is one of the nine dental specialties accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA). They typically lead the way as experts on a team determining the best treatment path for more complex dental conditions, says UMSD. A prosthodontist can work in tandem with every type of dentist, from your general dentist or pediatric dentist, to oral surgeons and even ear, nose and throat specialists.

What Areas Do Prosthodontists Cover?

Prosthodontists perform a multitude of treatments. According to the Association of Prosthodontists of Canada, the three main categories of procedures include:

  • Restoration of damaged teeth with crowns, veneers or bonding
  • Replacement of missing teeth with bridges or dentures
  • Insertion of dental implants

But this is just the general scope of their specialty. Prosthodontists do much more than cosmetic restoration. They're experts in many areas, including geriatric dental care, oral restoration for conditions such as cleft palates, oral reconstruction because of cancer or other maxillofacial procedures and even oral procedures to treat snoring and sleep disorders, notes UMSD.

The field focuses on cutting-edge knowledge of the latest tooth restoration and replacement technologies and awareness of all the factors that can cause congenital or sudden missing and damaged teeth.

When to Seek out a Prosthodontist

Many times, your dentist can also fit crowns, replace teeth and insert implants. So if both a specialist and your usual practitioner can make you the same partial denture, which option is best?

On the whole, prosthodontists have a higher level of expertise in many of these areas because of their extensive years of training. Also, they are best to seek out for complicated problems that involve surgery on bone and tissue as well as dental work, and it's in these cases that your general dentist or orthodontist are most likely to refer you to a prosthodontist.

Prosthodontists don't have additional credentials behind their name, but the American College of Prosthodontists mandates that they are the only specialists who can define themselves with wording like, "Specialist in Prosthodontics," or "Practice limited to Prosthodontics." In many states in the U.S., your general dentist can practice prosthodontics, but must display information that they are practicing as a "general dentist."

What to Expect at Your First Appointment

Your first appointment will likely be more of a consultation to gain insight about the best course of treatment. It's a good idea to request X-rays from your general dentist, if you have them, to help your prosthodontist better understand your case. You may need additional X-rays in following visits, or even in your first visit, but in-depth treatment won't start until your following visits. 

If you have dental insurance, ask your provider about care coverage before your appointment. In many cases, cosmetic surgery and implants are not covered, but you may be covered under trauma injuries or restorative procedures like crowns or dentures.

While a referral to a prosthodontist may initially seem daunting, if you do need a tooth replaced or other complex dental restoration, it can be comforting to know that you're in the hands of an expert specially trained to help you achieve a beautiful, healthy smile.

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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 Ceaning – 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.