What Is a Prosthodontist?
A prosthodontist is a dental specialist who has undergone three years of special training, in addition to a degree in general dentistry. Prosthodontists specialize in difficult cases where a patient’s teeth or surrounding tissue and bone are missing or damaged. During these additional three years of training, prosthodontists learn and practice special skills that enable them to restore the function, comfort, and appearance of a healthy, beautiful smile.
As you might guess from the name, prosthodontics commonly deals with oral prosthetics such as crowns, dentures, or bridges. However, our specialty goes beyond that, diagnosing and treating complex dental issues such as TMD, trauma, or severe tooth loss due to advanced gum disease.
What’s the Difference between a Dentist and a Prosthodontist?
Sometimes it’s difficult to understand how prosthodontics differs from general dentistry and even other specialties. Many different practices and specialties will offer identical or similar services. For example, there may be a prosthodontist who offers dental cleanings in-house, and a general dentist who offers dental implants.
The real distinction between a prosthodontist and a general dentist is in the level of education and specialization that they’ve acquired. A general dentist goes to dental school for four years, graduating with either a DMD or DDS. A dentist can offer special services, such as orthodontic treatment or same-day crowns. However, it’s important for patients to fully understand what additional training their general dentist did in order to qualify them to offer these services. In many cases, something as simple as a week-long course gives them a certificate. These intensive training sessions can’t grant the same level of expertise as three years’ study in a dental specialty.
During a prosthodontic residency, doctors study the proper balance and function of the teeth and jaw, learn advanced techniques in creating and fitting dental prosthetics, and learn how to diagnose and manage advanced dental challenges.
How Do Prosthodontists Work with Other Dental Specialists?
Prosthodontics is just one of nine dental specialties authorized by the American Dental Association. Prosthodontists often coordinate a variety of services in order to give their patients the best treatment for complex cases. For example, in order to treat a patient who has missing teeth due to advanced gum disease, a prosthodontist may work with a periodontist in order to treat the underlying cause of lost teeth and halt the progression of deteriorating gums. In order to treat a patient with severe TMD issues, a prosthodontist may pair with an oral maxillofacial surgeon and/or an orthodontist in order to align the jaw and teeth properly.
Prosthodontists are sometimes known as the “quarterback” of dentistry because they head up treatment plans and coordinate efforts from other members of a dental team. Under the care and management of a prosthodontist, patients can be confident that their final results will be perfectly balanced, comfortable, beautiful, and functional.
Which Services Are Provided by Prosthodontists?
A prosthodontist is highly qualified to provide the most advanced treatment available to support oral health when one or more tooth is missing. This restorative work can include any or several of the following:
- Cosmetic dentistry: Cosmetic dentistry1 is much more than plastering on a one-size-fits-all Hollywood smile. An accredited prosthodontist will evaluate your natural teeth to plan prosthetics which will seamlessly blend with your natural beauty and give you a realistic, healthily-functioning, and properly balanced smile.
- Dental implants and permanent dentures: Dental implants2 are one of the most significant advances in dentistry in the past century. By implanting an anchor directly in the gums, prosthodontists are able to halt bone deterioration in the jaw and give you replacement teeth that perfectly imitate the function and appearance of your original smile. Prosthodontists help guide cases of dental implants, whether the anchor is meant to support just one missing tooth, a bridge spanning several teeth, or a full permanent denture.
- Reconstruction for birth defects such as missing teeth or cleft palate: Sometimes, the challenge at hand isn’t that a tooth or vital oral tissue has been lost, but that it was never there in the first place. Prosthodontists help to create treatment plans that fuse prosthetics, surgical intervention, and natural oral dentition in order to give patients all the advantages of natural, healthy teeth, gums, and jaw.
- Treatment for geriatric patients and gum disease: The most common cause of lost teeth is gum disease, which becomes more common as we age. Dental care for senior patients can become more complicated, as immune system functioning and healing time can change. Prosthodontists are specialists in handling the needs of senior patients to help them to restore health and balance to their smiles.
- Restorative dentistry and prosthodontics: Although many general dentists offer restorative dentistry services, a prosthodontist is a specialist in creating, fitting, and maintaining replacement dentition in order to give you the best, most long-lasting results.
- Temporomandibular joint syndrome/disorder (TMD/TMJ): Many patients experience misaligned bites. This can lead to teeth grinding, chronic pain, and even sleep disorders, among other challenges. TMD can be especially common with mismanaged dental prosthetics, as the replacement teeth don’t fit properly, leading to an imbalance in the bite. A prosthodontist ensures that all restorative work is in balance with a healthy bite.
- Complex case management: Many extreme dental challenges will involve the care of more than one specialist in order to give the patient the best results. When this is the case, a prosthodontist manages a multi-faceted treatment plan and coordinates with various specialists.
- Restoration after traumatic injuries or oral cancer: Accidents and/or surgery may necessitate the removal of a portion of the mouth--this might include part of the jaw, multiple teeth, portions of the hard or soft palate, or important gum tissue. Utilizing state of the art tools and techniques, prosthodontists restore the function and appearance of a healthy mouth and smile.
How Can I Choose a Qualified Prosthodontist?
In order to become an accredited prosthodontist, individuals must successfully pass intensive testing conducted by the American Board of Prosthodontics. Furthermore, prosthodontists must re-certify every 8 years to confirm they’re up-to-date on the ever-changing landscape of technology and tools that assist in dental restoration and the mechanics of the smile. Learn more and find a board-certified prosthodontist on the website of the American Board of Prosthodontists3.
Washington State Prosthodontics’ own Dr. Michael Johnson received his Doctorate of Dental Surgery from the University of Washington. After a few years’ practiced in general dentistry, he embarked on a three-year residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota in order to get his accreditation in prosthodontics. Today, he offers his patients all the benefits of 30+ years in practice. Learn more about Dr. Johnson here4, or give us a call today to discuss your case.