Types of Referrals That General Dentists Make

Students who go on to become general dentists receive a grounding in all the various areas of dentistry. This broad education allows them to perform treatments and procedures that go beyond X-rays, fillings, cleanings, sealants and other basic dentistry services. However, sometimes a particular dental problem may go beyond the skill of a general dentist. In cases such as these, it is beneficial to patients to receive a referral to a professional with training in and a focus narrowed more closely on a particular type of issue.

Issues for which general dentists may make referrals

Due to the comprehensive training that a general dentist receives, it is possible that some patients may be able to receive a lifetime of dental services from the same practitioner. Nevertheless, a dentist often does not have experience and skill in treating all dental problems equally. Therefore, it is fairly common for dentists to refer patients with certain types of issues to other professionals in the dental field. Such issues may include, but are not limited to, the following.

Misalignment

Crooked teeth, crowded teeth or teeth with too much space between them are common alignment issues. In addition to affecting a person's looks and self-regard, misalignment can also contribute to tooth decay and loss by making teeth more difficult to clean properly. The practice of bringing the teeth and/or jaws into better alignment is called orthodontics and involves placing appliances such as braces, aligners or retainers. This often requires referral to an orthodontist.

Gum disease

The gums consist of the soft tissues that hold the teeth in place in the jawbone, which are vulnerable to infection when exposed to the bacteria that tend to grow on the teeth. Often, a dentist may be able to cope with gum disease, but if it becomes too advanced, it may require treatment by a periodontist, a dentist who focuses on gum health.

Root canals

The bacteria that can cause tooth decay and gum disease can sometimes work its way down into the innermost layer of the tooth. This layer consists of nerves, blood vessels and other living tissue known collectively as the pulp. An infection of the pulp can often result in the loss of the tooth unless a procedure called a root canal is performed. Some general dentists have experience performing root canals and can cope on their own, but a particularly difficult or complicated case may require a referral to an endodontist, whose practice consists almost entirely of root canal procedures.

Tooth replacement

Sometimes, despite the patient's and dentist's efforts, a tooth cannot be saved. However, there are many replacement options available to a patient affected by tooth loss, which include the following:

  • Bridges
  • Veneers
  • Implants
  • Dentures

A general dentist may refer the patient to a prosthodontist for a better idea of what specific options are available in the particular case.

Conclusion

It can be difficult for a patient to assess the nature of a dental problem and decide which professional to see. A general dentist who cannot treat the issue directly can still perform a diagnostic and refer the patient to the proper professional.

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