Dental implants dentist or oral surgeon, what’s the difference?

Dental implants dentist or oral surgeon, what’s the difference?

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If you’ve been told you need extensive dental work, you may have been referred to an oral surgeon. What’s the difference between the two, and do you have to use an oral surgeon for dental implants, or is your dentist enough?

What is the difference between a dentist and oral surgeon?

Think of this in the same way you’d see a GP or a specialist surgeon. Much like a GP, a dentist can treat a wide variety of common problems. A specialist or surgeon is far more specialised and offers a level of skill that a more generalist healthcare provider can’t.

Common issues that a dentist will happily manage include:

  • Fillings
  • Crowns
  • Sealants
  • Bridges
  • Veneers
  • Whitening
  • Dental implants – Split between Dentists who perform Restoration or Surgical placement

So if you need some minor cosmetic work done or have a weekend emergency filling, it’s your dentist you need to contact.

In terms of a qualification, dentists (if they studied in NZ), must have attended the Health Sciences first year at Otago University and passed with at least 70%. Then, they must complete a four-year Bachelor of Dental Surgery. This degree, which includes hands-on practical training, is the very minimum requirement they must have in order to register as a dentist in NZ. From there, they can go on to do an Honours, a Masters, or a Diploma for Graduates.

What is an oral surgeon?

If your GP sees that you need surgery, they will refer you to a surgeon. In much the same way, a dentist can refer you to an oral surgeon. This will happen if the patient needs specialist, in-depth care.

Oral and Maxillofacial surgeons are two surgical specialities whom perform a variety of specialised procedures involving the entire craniofacial complex. The term ‘Maxillofacial’ is the medical term that refers to the mouth, jaws, face, skull and associated structures. These highly specialised professionals perform a range of tasks including:

  • Tooth extractions
  • Placement of dental implants
  • Removal of jaw/ oral tumours
  • Oral biopsies
  • Diagnosis and treatment of jaw joint disorders
  • Removal of wisdom teeth
  • Bone grafts
  • Treatment of salivary gland disorders
  • Infections of the face and mouth
  • Reconstructive surgery after face/ oral trauma

As well as having a similar introductory degree to a dentist specialising in oral and maxillofacial surgery, they will also have other qualifications. These may include an ADC accreditation from other medical schools, a fellowship to the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons, board certifications from other governing bodies, and at least two years in postgraduate speciality training.

Periodontists are another key speciality group who specialise in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of periodontal disease and oral inflammation as well as placement of dental implants.

Why would a dentist refer you to an oral surgeon?

A dentist might refer you to an oral surgeon if they don’t feel qualified to give you the best possible outcome. This is no reflection on the skill of your dentist, as everyone has different specialities and strengths. Referring you to a specialist shows that your dentist wants the best possible outcome for you. This may be due to the specialised nature of the treatment, or complexities with a treatment that should be standard. This could be because the patient has pre-existing health conditions that may affect the outcome, complicating factors with the structure of the jaw/ mouth, or something else altogether.

Can I go to an oral surgeon without a referral?

While you can go to an oral surgeon without a referral, it can be beneficial to speak to your dentist first. Your dentist is much better placed to advise you if you do require specialised care or not. Numerous dentists with a special interest in Implant placement have also gone through vigorous theoretical and hands-on training programs to ensure high standards of treatment for your treatment requirements. If they feel the need to refer you they may also have a specific person to refer you to that specialises in what you need done.

Visiting your dentist and getting a referral also means continuity of care. Your dentist can brief the surgeon beforehand and perform an in-depth a patient handover. Then, once the procedure is complete, the surgeon can debrief your dentist and hand your care over to them. This ensures complete continuity, which can help to ensure a better long-term outcome.

If you think you need to speak to a surgeon about a problem you have, speak to your dentist first. They will ensure you get the right treatment, from the best professional for your needs.