Most people know, generally, what a dentist does. But what about an endodontist? Less than 3% of dentists go on to become endodontists, so it’s not surprising that many people might not know what they do.
An endodontist is a dentist who specializes in root canal procedures and other treatments involving the pulp and nerves inside teeth. Root canals are needed when tooth decay has advanced beyond a cavity and has attacked the inner parts of a tooth. The word comes from the Greek terms “endo,” meaning “within,” and “odont,” meaning “tooth.”
Schooling for Dentists and Endodontists
The difference between dentists and endodontists starts with their education. All dental students receive training in basic endodontic treatment in dental school. Learning to perform root canal procedures is part of the curriculum.
But endodontists go on to complete an additional two to three years of advanced training focusing only on endodontic procedures. They become specialists in root canals, endodontic retreatment, endodontic surgery, dental implants, and the treatment of traumatic dental injuries.
Who Should Do Your Root Canal?
In many cases, family dentists are fully capable of performing root canal procedures. They have been trained to do them and their offices have all the necessary equipment. There are times, however, when a dentist may recommend an endodontist instead. As root canal specialists, endodontists may be better prepared to handle more serious cases.
So, while an endodontist can treat most cases needing a root canal, their advanced expertise may not be necessary for every case. It is best for a patient to consult with their dentist to see if an endodontist is needed. (If you do not currently have a dentist, use our dentist finder tool to find one in your area.)
Endodontists Are Specialists
A basic root canal includes removing damaged pulp from inside the tooth, cleaning out the empty canal, and filling it in. These are the straightforward type of procedures typically done in the dentist’s office. The complexity of a root canal procedure is usually the deciding factor in whether a dentist will refer a patient to an endodontist.
When a tooth has extensive damage, an endodontist may be better equipped to save the tooth. Serious conditions like pulpitis or dental pulp necrosis need to be addressed and fixed as soon as possible. Endodontists are also called in if a previous root canal has failed to fix the problem.
Molars can pose more of a challenge, as they contain multiple roots that branch out into several canals, whereas incisors and canine teeth only have one root. Dentists may choose to refer these cases to an endodontist.
Advantages of Endodontists for Root Canals
Endodontists are in the business of saving teeth that are at risk. While dentists spend a lot of time in the prevention of dental issues, endodontists focus on repairing damage that is already done.
Endodontists concentrate all their time on this type of work. They do not fill cavities or do other procedures that general family dentists do. A typical dentist might do a few root canals a month. An endodontist might do 25 in a week.
Diagnostic Skills and Higher Success Rates
Because of their focus on pulp and nerve issues, endodontists develop keen diagnostic skills. They have the training and experience to find the patient’s problem and offer the best options for treatment. Clinical studies conducted by the Journal of Oral Surgery Oral Medicine Oral Pathology Oral Radiology and the Journal of Endodontics point to greater rates of success for endodontists (meaning fewer root canals that need to be redone) than those of general dentists.
Endodontic practices have access to specialized equipment that a general dental practice may not have. They routinely use 3D-Xrays, surgical microscopes, and ultrasonic instruments in their procedures. Without these tools, it can take an endodontist half the time it takes a general dentist to complete a procedure.
Expert Pain Management
Many patients fear root canal procedures because of their reputation for being painful. Endodontists are experienced in anticipating and controlling pain during and after root canal procedures and other surgeries. They may also offer sedation and options to relieve anxiety.
Advantage of Dentists for Root Canals
While there’s nothing wrong with going to an endodontist for even a basic procedure, it is not always necessary. Since not all root canal cases are challenging, a dentist can be the best option.
Because endodontists are specialists, they typically charge more for their services. It may be more cost effective to visit a dental practice instead. Patients should ask for an estimate so they can compare prices. If they have dental insurance, they should check with them about exactly what services are covered.
Many patients will find it comforting to visit a familiar office. If a patient is used to a practice’s staff, scheduling procedures, billing, and insurance policies, they may feel more comfortable with the entire process.
When a patient needs a root canal, especially in an emergency, it will be easy to find a dentist just about anywhere. Even if they don’t have a regular dentist, they will most likely be able to find one nearby who will accommodate them. Endodontists, on the other hand, may be harder to find in some areas of the country. And while a regular dentist may be chosen for being nearby, a patient may have to travel farther to visit an endodontist.
There is some advantage to having one person doing all of a patient’s dental work. They will know the patient’s history and have access to all relevant files.
Dentists and Endodontists are Both Dedicated to Dental Health
When a root canal procedure is necessary, a patient should weigh their options with a dentist. These should include not only cost and convenience but also the best possible result for their teeth.
A reliable dentist will recognize when he or she can handle a case or when the patient should be referred to an endodontist. Together the two professionals will map out a treatment plan for a successful outcome.