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What Dental Care Does a General Dentist Perform?

By Aaron McWilliams - Updated October 26, 2020


A young man wakes up in the middle of the night. His right tooth near the back of his mouth is hurting. It’s not a real sharp pain, but just enough to disturb his sleep. The next morning, as he eats his breakfast, he takes a sip of cool orange juice… The juice feels like a cold vice on his tooth. As the day progresses, the man realizes that the pain involved with his tooth is getting worse and worse. He knows he needs to get to a dentist office, but how does he decide where to go?

Although the story is fiction, this situation does happen on a regular basis. When a person experiences tooth pain, they know the next step is to go to a dentist; but there are lots of different types of dentists. How does a person know which type of dentist to use?

First, what different types of dentists are there? The simplest way to categorize dentists is two ways: General Dentists and Specialists. General Dentists are often referred to as “family dentists” or “general practitioners.” A general dentist can perform all of the basic maintenance on teeth, as well as some of the more serious procedures.

What Does a General Dentist Do?

General dentists are trained to do all different types of work on the teeth, and it is up to the specific office on which procedures they are comfortable performing. Just about every dentist can perform examinations, x-rays, cleanings and simple fillings. Most dentists can also take care of crowns, bridges, and simple dentures. Some dentists will also do root canals and some gum work like deep-cleaning. The exact procedures performed by the general dentist are up to the discretion of that particular dentist. Some general dentists prefer to only do check-ups and cleanings, while other general dentists will do just about everything in their office.

Find a Dentist in Your Area

So, given this information, should someone with a toothache go to a general dentist or to a specialist? I would advise that most people go to the general dentist first. Work done by a general dentist will usually be less expensive than work done by a specialist. Also, a general dentist can advise what kind of specialist would be necessary for a given problem. Also, the general dentist is going to be able to perform a wide range of services and it is often not even necessary to go to a specialist.

What Exactly Is a Specialist?

The other type of dentist is considered a “specialist.” There are many different types of specialists, and each concentrates on a specific area of the mouth. All specialists have the same basic training as a general dentist, but they also have additional schooling in their particular field (sometimes 5 years longer than general dentists!) At the end of their training, these dentists can perform all basic procedures, specialized procedures not in their field of extended study to a certain degree, and all specialized procedures in their field of extended study. Here is a list of some of the different types of specialists available:

  • An Oral Surgeon specializes in surgery, infections, and extractions of teeth.
  • An Endodontist specializes in the roots (root canals) and surrounding pulp inside the tooth.
  • An Orthodontist specializes in adjusting teeth using braces and retainers.
  • A Periodontist specializes in the gums and gum disease.
  • A Prosthodontist specializes in false teeth such as dentures and bridges, as well as implants.
  • And a Pediatric Dentist (or Pedodontist) specializes in children’s dentistry and baby teeth.

Use this chart below as a quick reference guide for the different kinds of dentists:

General Dentist

General dentists are primary dental care providers. They diagnose, treat and manage overall oral health for individuals and entire families – no matter their age. These dentists are the most common type of dentist. They typically see patients for the following procedures and care:

  • Regular dental checkups
  • Oral exams
  • X-rays
  • Cleanings
  • Gum care
  • Fillings
  • Preventive education
  • Root canals (Sometimes dentists will recommend specialists for this procedure, depending on the situation)
  • Crowns
  • Veneers
  • Bridges


Orthodontists specialize in diagnosis, prevention, interception and treatment of bad bites. These bites can result from crowded, missing or extra teeth, or even jaws that are not in alignment. Orthodontists straighten teeth with the use of braces and other fixed or removable corrective retainers or appliances.


Endodontists are dental specialists focused on the cause, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases and injuries of the mouth. Difficult root canals that general dentists are unable to perform can be done by an endodontist.

Oral Surgeon

Oral surgeons perform different types of surgical procedures in and around the entire face, mouth and jaw. If you’ve suffered facial injuries from an accident and need reconstructive or dental implant surgery, oral surgeons can help. They will also treat patients who have tumors or cysts in the jaw.

Oral surgeons also perform:

  • Simple tooth extractions
  • Complex extractions like removing soft tissue, overlying bone or remaining roots
  • Wisdom teeth removal
  • Soft tissue biopsies
  • Cleft palate or lip repair
  • Removal of tumors found in the oral cavity
  • Implant positioning
  • Complex jaw realignment surgeries
  • Fractured cheek or jaw bone repair


Prosthodontists specialize in repairing natural teeth or replacing missing teeth at a larger scale than a general dentist can do. These dental specialists specialize in dentures and individual and full mouth dental implants.

Pediatric Dentist

Also known as pedodontists, pediatric dentists are the primary oral health care provider for children ages one to early adulthood. Pediatric dentists can detect, treat and refer, as needed, any problems with decayed, missing, crowded or crooked teeth.


If you want to find a dentist who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases, which includes gums and bones (structure of the teeth), look for a periodontist. These dental specialists diagnose and treat gingivitis. Periodontists can perform these procedures:

  • Simple and deep pocket cleanings
  • Root planing
  • Crown lengthening
  • Soft tissue and/or bone grafting
  • Gingival or flap procedures

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