What’s the difference between a dentist and a dental surgeon?

Dental surgeons are significantly different from dentists; though their disciplines do overlap, a dental surgeon has undertaken specialist training, to equip them to handle more intensive dental work.

The severity of cases, their daily caseload and the equipment that the two professionals use are all very different, and although a dental practitioner is part of a surgical society, a maxillofacial surgeon will also be able to offer more extensive procedures. But some treatments overlap and can be completed by both professionals.

In general, a dental surgeon will be able to complete all the procedures of a dentist in Wimbledon and more. The additional cost would make this unsuitable for most patients, and during a normal treatment pathway, many regular dental patients would see a general dental practitioner first and be referred on if the case was considered complex.

For instance, dental implants are an extensive treatment, putting them outside the scope of a standard dental degree. As they have become more popular, many general dental professionals have chosen to attend further training, so that they can perform implanting, but typically this is part of the standard role of an oral surgeon.

One of the few extractions regularly performed by an oral surgeon is wisdom tooth removal; this is due to the multi-rooted and awkward location of wisdom teeth. The necessary incisions need to be made in specific parts of the gum and the tooth needs to be removed in pieces. In the case of impacted wisdom teeth, they may have to operate directly on the jawbone.

Not all dental surgeons are specialised in working with bone. Maxillofacial specialists work with the soft tissues and complex nerve and blood supplies of the face. The training of an oral surgeon extends beyond the teeth and jaw, encompassing a range of pathologies both infectious and genetic, as well as the anatomy of the face and neck, enabling them to perform reconstructive work after trauma. Bone grafting is a common technique used only by dental surgeons and would not be performed in the local clinic.

With the standard dental practice, work is performed with the use of local anaesthetics or numbing agents. This allows the patient to remain completely conscious, permitting communication between the practitioner and the patient. This is in stark contrast to the oral surgeon who would work with an anaesthesiologist to keep a patient under sedation during the treatment. This is far more hazardous than local sedation, with the risk of suppressing breathing and constant need to monitor life signs and adjust doses accordingly (hence the need for an anaesthesiologist). This adds a great deal of cost to any procedure which has to be performed with full sedation.

Much like a GP and a consultant, a dental practitioner and a dental surgeon are both doctors practising medicine, but are quite different in their methods and specialities. Not only would it be unnecessarily costly for an oral surgeon to perform routine check-ups or fillings, but the skills of a surgeon in an operating theatre would be under utilised. In much the same way as a dentist who may understand the need and goals of a surgical procedure, but lacks the practical skills to quickly and safely perform the surgery.

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