Endodontists are dentists with additional training in the recognized dental specialty of endodontics. Every endodontist completes the same four years of education as your family or general dentist. Some endodontists practice general dentistry for some time before returning to either a two- or three-year program that qualifies them as a specialist. If your dentist recommends you see an endodontist, you may have one or more of the following questions.
Why Are Endodontists Referred to as Specialists?
The typical dental education consists of four years of intense education in basic sciences and the various aspects of general dentistry. These include:
- Oral surgery
- Restorative dentistry
- Dental radiology
- Oral medicine
Everyone graduating from dental school is qualified to treat diseases in each of these areas. Some general dentists choose to return to school to spend two to four years of intense study in one of these areas. This training designates them as a dental specialist who limits their practice or work to that specialty area. Endodontists limit their practice to endodontics.
What Is Endodontics?
“Endo” means inside, and “odont” means tooth. Endodontics literally means inside the tooth. Most endodontic treatment involves disease of the dental pulp, which is the soft tissue found inside the tooth. Many people call the pulp the “nerve” of the tooth, but it contains more than nerve tissue. Tiny arteries and veins are also a part of the pulp.
This tissue can become inflamed, infected, or traumatized and require removal from the tooth. A root canal treatment removes a diseased pulp and places a filling in the space it occupied and is the procedure endodontists most often perform in their practices.
Why Did My Dentist Refer Me to an Endodontist?
Some general dentists perform many root canal treatments in their office and are quite proficient in doing this. Frequently, these dentists attend courses to improve their knowledge and skills in endodontics.
However, these dentists will still refer patients to an endodontist to treat some teeth that may require more expertise. The reason is usually related to very curved roots or closed root canal spaces. Endodontists have more experience and more specialized endodontic instruments to treat these cases.
It is also possible that your dentist does not perform endodontic procedures at all in their office. Many general dentists limit their practice to cosmetic and restorative dentistry and refer root canal treatments to an endodontist.
What Other Procedures Do Endodontists Perform?
Endodontists are experts in saving teeth. Their most common procedure, the root canal treatment, has an extremely high success rate in accomplishing this. However, for several reasons, some teeth do not respond favorably to root canal treatment. Endodontists receive training in other procedures to help you keep your tooth when this occurs. These procedures include:
- Endodontic Retreatment
Endodontists receive extensive training not only in root canal treatment but retreatment. The endodontist reopens your tooth to remove the root canal filling and reclean the root canal system in the tooth. This may also include the removal of obstructions such as metal posts cemented into the root.
The endodontist inspects the inside of the tooth for cracks or other issues that may or may not be treatable. He or she places a new root canal filling if the prognosis of treatment appears favorable.
- Endodontic Surgery
This is a procedure that addresses a failing root canal through the gum instead of through the tooth. The endodontist can visualize the root and often see precisely why the root canal was unsuccessful. Removing a small portion of the end of the root during surgery repairs some causes of the failing root canal. However, the only solution is extraction for some situations such as a fractured root.
- Dental Implant
In most cases you should try to save your natural tooth. When extracting the tooth is necessary, your endodontist will discuss your options, which may include a dental implant. Some endodontists perform this procedure. Even if your endodontist does not place implants, you will be able to get valuable information from him or her. An endodontist is a great person to begin the discussion of replacing a tooth.
There is evidence from the first century of treating root canals in teeth for the relief of pain. In the 1800s the first root canal instrument and root canal filling material were developed. The recognition of endodontics as a dental specialty occurred in 1964 and accelerated the evolution of saving teeth with endodontic treatment.
This evolution has included advanced technologies such as digital radiographs, electric root canal instruments made from advanced metals, microscopes, Cone Beam imaging, and more. Endodontists are dental specialists highly trained in using the latest advancements to save your tooth comfortably, safely, and efficiently.
--- By Dr. Steven I Received his Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) from the Medical College of Georgia before practicing general dentistry in the United States Navy. He then completed a residency in endodontics at the Medical College of Georgia.