Never assume a particular clinician is a Board-registered specialist in any given field. The only way to check is to visit the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and verify their status as a specialist or a general dentist.
You don’t need a referral letter to see a dental specialist, unlike a medical specialist. Most dental specialists will be pleased to hear from you and offer you a primary or secondary opinion in their field of expertise. Specialists, if asked, can also refer you to excellent general dentists for your general dental care.
Beware terminology such as “special interest” or “specialist” in fields that are not recognised by the Dental Board of Australia and require little or no formal training. Ignore claims of specialist status in areas in which Dental Board specialist registration does not exist. Some of these include cosmetic specialist, sedation specialist, implant specialist, Invisalign® specialist, veneer specialist, and teeth whitening specialist.
In order to maintain their registration, all dental practitioners must, by law, undergo intensive postgraduate short training courses on a regular basis. Therefore this should not be a point of difference in your choice of one clinician over another; invariably all clinicians partake in such training, often with fancy-sounding titles which should not be confused with formal specialist registration.
Things to look out for in the common areas of dentistry
1. Cosmetic dentistry is not a specialisation. In this field you would be well advised to choose either a dentist with vast experience and reputation for cosmetic work or a specialist prosthodontist with additional university training in the areas of veneers, conventional and implant crowns or bridges.
View Dental and Teeth Implants Cost video
2. There is no specialisation as such in dental implants. “Implant dentist”, “Implant surgeon” and “Implantologist” are commonly used titles with little or no meaning. Implant dentistry focuses on two aspects of dentistry: surgery and prosthodontics.
Traditionally, the surgical component has been carried out by oral & maxillofacial surgeons (oral surgeons) or periodontists (gum specialists), both Board-registered specialities with extensive surgical training. General dentists with experience in the field of implants are more commonly carrying out implant surgery.
The prosthodontic component, which is the placement of the crown or bridge on the implant fixtures, can be managed by either a specialist prosthodontist or your general dentist, depending on the complexity of your case, your expectations and your budget.
3.Straightening teeth and creating an ideal occlusion (bite) have traditionally been the domain of the specialist “orthodontist”, but with the advent of short-term braces and Invisalign® this procedure is now commonly carried out by general dentists.
Many general dentists strongly recommend that you have your orthodontic treatment – whether it be conventional braces, internal braces, or Invisalign® – carried out by a Board-registered specialist orthodontist. Even if you do choose to have orthodontic treatment with a general dentist, it is highly recommended that you seek a second opinion from a specialist orthodontist.
View Dental Specialists in Australia video
4.General dentists are often referred to as “dental surgeons”. This term should not be confused with “oral surgeon” or “oral & maxillofacial surgeon”, who are registered specialists in the field of oral surgery offering Board-registered specialist care in areas such as trauma, orthognathic (orthodontic) surgery, dental implants, bone grafts and teeth extractions. Basically a dentist is the same as a dental surgeon, whereas the current educational requirement for an oral & maxillofacial surgeon is to have post-graduate degrees in both medicine and oral surgery.
In dentistry, there are thirteen recognised Board-registered specialties. Listed below are the Board-approved titles that specialist dental practitioners in those areas are entitled to use – with (in brackets) some common equivalents used by the broader community.
- Dento-maxillofacial radiology – Dental radiologist
- Endodontics – Endodontist (also known as a Root canal specialist)
- Oral and maxillofacial surgery – Oral and maxillofacial surgeon (aka Oral surgeon)
- Oral medicine – Specialist in oral medicine
- Oral pathology – Oral pathologist
- Oral surgery – Oral surgeon
- Orthodontics – Orthodontist
- Paediatric dentistry – Paediatric dentist or Paedodontist (aka Children’s dentist)
- Periodontics – Periodontist (aka Gum specialist)
- Prosthodontics – Prosthodontist (aka Crown and bridge specialist)
- Public health dentistry – Specialist in public health dentistry
- Special needs dentistry – Special needs dentist
- Forensic odontology – Forensic dentist
General dentists without specialist registration are, by law, forbidden to use any of the above specialist titles.
Never assume a particular clinician is a Board-registered specialist in any given field. It’s not uncommon for junior associate dentists, dental assistants and reception staff to imply that their senior clinicians are “specialists”, or even to refer to them as such, usually understanding neither the official industry definition of the title nor the implications of such an error. Always ask to be given a business card or title attached to an email that includes the word “specialist” to confirm the registration status of the practitioner. Or simply check for yourself on the AHPRA website.
A tip on search engines: A search of the web for any of the above specialists by their colloquial title will, confusingly, yield a long list of both Board-registered specialists and general dentists. The only way to be sure of an accurate result is to enter the correct title, as above, and confirm each specialist’s registration on the AHPRA website.