Dentists are doctors who specialize in preventative oral care and maintenance. Good general health depends on a number of factors, including good oral hygiene and health.
Dentists can diagnose oral disease, as well as regularly clean and treat the teeth. Dentistry is a field of medicine that involves evaluating, diagnosing, and treating the oral cavity. It is a medical profession, but this specialty requires a different course of study then medical doctors. In the United States, completing at least three years of undergraduate coursework is required for admission into dental school. However, this is rare, and most schools will require an undergraduate degree with the proper prerequisite coursework for admission. By the third year of their undergraduate education, pre-dental students should take the Dental Admission Test (DAT), a standardized exam similar to the MCAT, which can help determine a student’s preparedness for dentistry school. Once admitted, the next four years will be dedicated to learning the appropriate coursework, as well as patient care. Typically, the first two years are spent in the classroom, while the final two years involve direct patient care under supervision. Before graduating and earning the Doctor of Dental Surgery degree (DDS).
Proper oral care is necessary for good general health for several reasons. Regular visits to dentists to perform a thorough teeth cleaning can remove plaque and bacteria from hard to reach places in the mouth that a toothbrush cannot clean. This is good preventative care because if left untreated the plaque and bacteria can eat away at the tooth enamel, causing them to rot and become infected. The oral cavity is a good breeding ground for bacteria because it is warm and moist, and these are the perfect conditions for bacteria to grow. Leaving an infected tooth untreated can allow the infection to spread throughout the body.
Within the field of dentistry there are several different specialties, and upon earning the DDS degree some dentists will seek post-graduate coursework to learn specialties including oral pathology, peridontics, or geriatric dentistry. Depending on the desired specialty, this additional education can take anywhere from two years to seven years. Some of the most common specialties are endodontics and orthodontics. Endodontists treat diagnose, treat, and prevent disease and injuries to the dental pulp. If the tooth becomes infected and painful, a general dentist will refer the patient to an endodontist. These specialists can clean out the pulp chamber and remove dental pulp if necessary before the infection spreads, or the tooth becomes badly decayed. Orthodontists specialize in dental and facial irregularities; this is the first recognized specialty field of dentistry. A general dentist will refer their patients to an orthodontist for irregularities such as an improper “bite”, crooked teeth, or a disproportionate jaw. The specialist will use oral appliances such as braces, headgear, or retainers to set the teeth in the correct position.
Keeping the oral cavity healthy is important because clean, healthy teeth build confidence, and poor dental hygiene will have an effect on the rest of the body. Regular visits to the dentist for a thorough teeth cleaning should be added to regular check-ups with a doctor as good preventative care.