Specialists are for Special Occasions

Posted by Dr. Edward Magida | Filed under

When I graduated dental school, many of my non-dental friends and family would ask me if I planned to "specialize". I guess they thought that would be the better thing to do with my education. Maybe for someone else, but not for me. I like being in the center of a patients' treatment. I like being the "traffic cop", deciding the sequence of things, and when the different treatment procedures should be done.

There are many procedures a dentist is taught in dental school. Some procedures are liked more than others. Some are easier than others. Some things are of little to no interest. The good thing about not specializing is that you have the ability to treat all aspects of your patients needs. You do not have to draw the line, like the specialists do, at just doing extractions or root canals. You can pick and chose what procedures you want to do, and for most general dentists, there are many. As long as a dentist is confident in his or her ability to perform a given procedure, they should do it. The confidence comes in many ways. Continuing education is a must so that the latest techniques are learned and incorporated. Learning new ways to do procedures, or reinforcing your knowledge about the things that are done on an everyday basis, are two good reasons to continually take all kinds of dental courses. I would expect any professional I have contact with to do the same in their line of work.

So what does this have to do with sending a patient to a specialist? Being a good general dentist means that you have to know your own limitations. If you don't like taking out wisdom teeth, having a good oral surgeon in your back pocket is a good thing. If you don't like doing root canals on teeth that are twisted like a pretzel means that you should have the phone number of a good endodontist on speed dial. As a general dentist, I am allowed to perform any recognized dental procedure on the books. But I don't because I know my patients deserve to get the best care possible, so I will refer out those procedures I am not comfortable with, or those problem cases to the appropriate specialist to get the best job done.

What I sometimes find interesting is when a patient makes apparent to me that they really do not know just what a general dentist does. They don't realize that needing a root canal procedure does not mean getting sent across town to get it done. Or, if deep scaling with anesthesia is needed in multiple areas of the mouth to control periodontal disease, it does not mean they have to be seen by someone they do not know. Orthodontics is another area of dentistry that people don't realize can be performed by a properly trained general dentist. For the record, we are taught about and practice many different procedures, from all the different specialty areas, so that most times you can get the treatment you need, done right in the office you feel most comfortable in, ours. Another thing I find interesting is when a person insists that a specialist must do their treatment because it will "come out better". I take issue with this. I know many a general dentist who can do a molar root canal or extract a wisdom tooth like a champ. On the same note, I can honestly say that over the years I have been in practice, I have seen work done by "specialists" that was not up to par. It is up your dentist to refer you to a competent specialist to get your treatment done properly. I would never send a patient to a specialist I personally wouldn't use or send a member of my family to.

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