Comparing Endodontists, Periodontists & Orthodontists
Clinical content featured by Byte is reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to help ensure clinical accuracy.
We follow strict sourcing guidelines and each page contains a full list of sources for complete transparency.
Table of Contents
- Dental Specialists
- General Dentist for Support
Your mouth is a complex part of your body, and many dentists focus on one area to provide greater support.
Endodontists specialize in diagnosing and treating infected or damaged teeth. Periodontists support gum health, and orthodontists help to realign your teeth and jaw.
A Dental Specialist for Each Part of Your Mouth
You may think of your mouth as only one part of your body, but there are actually several parts of your mouth that sometimes benefit from the attention of a specialist. Your teeth, gums, and jaw are all separate parts, and different types of dentists focus on treating these specific areas.
Getting regular dental care from a general dentist is important. Visiting once or twice per year for a check-up and cleaning supports the overall health of your entire mouth.
Your general dentist will often provide treatments that focus on your gums, teeth, or jaw individually. When they cannot treat your oral health with their own specialties, they may give you a referral to another dental practitioner.
There are several types of dentists aside from general dentists, just like there are several types of doctors aside from general physicians. Three dental specialists are endodontists, periodontists, and orthodontists. Many American adults will be referred to one of these specialists at some point in their lives for treatment that focuses on a specific area.
Endodontists: Saving Your Natural Teeth
A dentist who specializes in endodontics knows many procedures designed to save your natural teeth for as long as possible. Endodontists are specialists in diagnosing and treating tooth pain, and they have a thorough understanding of the inside of the tooth, particularly the dentin (pulp) and root. If a tooth has become infected, you may need a filling, root canal, or another endodontic procedure to save the tooth.
- Tooth decay.
- Traumatic dental injuries.
- Dental implants.
- Treatment and surgeries to save teeth.
Since the focus of an endodontist is on treating dental pulp, one of the primary methods they use for saving teeth is performing root canals. This removes infected, inflamed, and damaged dentin from inside your tooth while preserving as much of the root and enamel as possible.
An endodontist may perform as many as 25 root canals per week. General dentists can perform root canals as well, but since their practice is broader, their focus is likely to be on other types of treatment in a larger care plan.
You may need to see an endodontist if you experience:
- Tooth pain that comes and goes or does not quickly subside.
- Injury to a tooth that cracks or damages it.
- Sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods.
- Swelling in the gums around the teeth.
- Swelling on the gums.
- Excessive bleeding from the gums.
- Swelling of your face, especially near a tooth.
If much or all of a tooth needs to be removed, your endodontist can place dental implants that will support a crown or bridge, which replaces the natural tooth. An endodontist does not typically fill cavities or clean your teeth. Your general dentist can help you with these issues.
Periodontists: Supporting Healthy Gums
While endodontists specialize in saving teeth, periodontists specialize in saving your gums. Periodontal disease is common among American adults, who may not realize they have a mild gum infection. A periodontist also places dental implants and treats other types of oral inflammation.
Periodontists specialize in treatments including:
- Scaling and root planing, which cleans the surface of an infected root.
- Root surface debridement, in which damaged tissue is removed.
- Surgical procedures for people with severe gum infection or damage.
- Placing, replacing, or repairing dental implants.
During a visit, your periodontist will look at your dental history and examine your gums for signs of recession. They will examine how your teeth fit together and determine if any teeth are loose, which is a sign of advanced periodontal disease.
They will also use a probe to measure pockets around your teeth and gums. Larger pockets indicate periodontal disease, while smaller pockets show that your teeth and gums fit together in a healthy way.
Once your periodontist has examined your mouth, they may recommend a treatment like:
- Antibiotics, including medication delivery through a dental tray system.
- Gum graft surgery.
- Laser-based scaling and root planing.
- Dental crown lengthening.
- Procedures to regenerate lost bone tissue, like a bone graft.
- Dental implants.
- Pocket reduction procedure.
- Some plastic surgery procedures to adjust the ratio of gum to tooth in your smile.
Periodontal disease is associated with other types of chronic health problems, including heart disease. Visiting your general dentist regularly can help to reduce your risk of periodontal disease, but bringing in a specialist to support your gum health can keep your teeth and jaw healthy for longer too.
Orthodontists: Aligned Teeth & Jaws
Orthodontics are often considered cosmetic or preventative, as orthodontists specialize in diagnosing and treating facial irregularities caused by a crooked jaw or misaligned teeth. There are several devices that are implemented to ensure your bite fits together and there are no pressures on your teeth causing damage.
Tooth alignment is not just about having a glamorous smile. Teeth that align are less likely to develop pockets of hard to clean bacteria, which can cause plaque and tartar, gum disease, and areas of stress that may lead to cracks or damage to the teeth.
An orthodontist can also provide treatment for grinding or clenching your teeth (bruxism), thumb sucking, tongue thrusting, and even sleep apnea. Aligning your teeth and jaw can reduce many complications that can cause pain or lead to other problems, which might require a periodontist or endodontist.
While you will need a referral from your general dentist before getting an appointment with a periodontist or an endodontist, an orthodontist can consult with you without a specialist referral.
Orthodontic treatment may take longer than other types of treatment, as orthodontic devices are designed to make long-lasting changes to your teeth and jaw. Unfortunately, many people put off orthodontics and need consistent visits to endodontists or periodontists because misaligned teeth create ongoing problems with tartar buildup, tooth strain, and infection.
Your General Dentist Is Your Go-To for Support & Referrals
If you have misaligned teeth and your general dentist believes this may lead to more frequent gum disease and tooth decay, you may be concerned about visiting an orthodontist. Rather than putting off important dental treatment, you could consider at-home orthodontics options. Clear plastic aligners are very popular with many American adults who want to straighten their teeth without the expense, stress, and even dental phobia associated with visiting a dentist to adjust or replace orthodontic devices.
These treatments empower many people to take care of their oral health at home. As a result, more people can avoid invasive treatments like root canals, root debridement, and even having damaged teeth removed.
Most importantly, maintain regular appointments with your general dentist. This is the best way to ensure your overall oral health and avoid major dental issues.
Common Types of Dentists. (July 2018). Cigna. Date fetched: May 24, 2021.
What’s the Difference Between a Dentist and an Endodontist? American Association of Endodontists (AAE). Date fetched: May 24, 2021.
Why See an Endodontist. American Association of Endodontists (AAE). Date fetched: May 24, 2021.
What Is a Periodontist? American Academy of Periodontology (AAP). Date fetched: May 24, 2021.
Periodontal Treatments and Procedures. American Academy of Periodontology (AAP). Date fetched: May 24, 2021.
Non-Surgical Periodontal Treatment. American Academy of Periodontology (AAP). Date fetched: May 24, 2021.
Laser Treatment for Gum Disease. American Academy of Periodontology (AAP). Date fetched: May 24, 2021.
What Does an Orthodontist Do? (December 2019). Orthodontics Australia. Date fetched: May 24, 2021.
Why Orthodontics? American Association of Orthodontists. Date fetched: May 24, 2021.