Although many consider dentistry as simply the study of the teeth and the treatment of tooth decay, this is a very limited view of dentistry. Dentistry, also referred to as dental medicine, is a branch of medicine that focuses on the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of conditions and disorders in the oral cavity and nearby structures. The latter includes the head, face, jaw, neck, tongue and salivary glands.
The oral cavity is not an isolated area of the body and as such, dentistry plays a vital role in ensuring an individual’s overall health. For example, some illnesses in the body may first manifest itself in the mouth and adjacent areas. As such, the examination of lumps, ulcerations and discolorations in these areas are included in a comprehensive dental exam. The patient may be referred to another medical specialist if the condition affects another area of the body.
Dental checkups and treatments are carried out by professionals known as dentists who have received the necessary medical training and passed exams that license them to practice the profession.
They are typically assisted by a dental team composed of dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental technicians and dental therapists. Aspiring dentists typically complete a bachelor’s degree before entering dental school.
Depending on their specialty, they may need to spend more years in school to complete their residency education.
There are nine areas of specialization in the field of dentistry:
- Dental Public Health
- Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
- Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
- Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
- Pediatric Dentistry
Dental public health is concerned with the prevention and control of disease through community efforts. Endodontics deals with the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of conditions of the dental pulp and nearby tissues. The research, identification and diagnosis of illnesses of the teeth, mouth and nearby regions is covered in the specialization of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology.