General Dentistry FAQ
General dentistry is basic dental and oral hygienic care performed by either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). The answers to the following most commonly asked questions about general dentistry can help you know when you should see a general dentist, what procedures your family dentist may perform, and when you may need a referral from your dentist to another dental specialist.
What is the Purpose of General Dentistry?
General dentistry includes all basic care needed to keep teeth and gums healthy from an early age. When an individual keeps regular appointments with their family dentist, the chances of tooth decay and gum disease are lessened, as is the risk of expensive dental work needed due to unattended problems.
“The goal of a general dentist is to be an oral health monitor, coach and quarterback for our patients,” says Donald J. Zelazny, DDS and Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry, who has 24 years of experience as a general dentist and practices at the Wright and Zelazny offices in Waterford and Franklin, MI. “We must monitor the mouth for any disease that may appear, coach our patients on getting and keeping their mouths healthy, and – like a quarterback –run the show when it comes to monitoring and managing all phases of treatment, whether by a general dentist or a team of specialists.”
When Should I See a General Dentist?
Most individuals should see their general or family dentist twice a year for a routine exam and cleaning. Missing appointments can mean that dental caries (pockets of decay in teeth) and periodontal (gum) disease can advance rapidly and destroy tooth material as well as doing damage to the gums and jawbone. Treatment for periodontal disease, extensive fillings, extractions and tooth replacements can be both painful and costly.
“It’s just like your car,” Dr. Zelazny explains. “Your mouth stays in better shape when the small maintenance things are dealt with before they get too big. A small cavity can easily be treated for minimal cost, but if the problem is ignored for too long, the treatment for the problem will be many times more expensive than it would have been if the small cavity was just dealt with when it was small!”
Putting off that maintenance check and oil change can result in a burnt out engine requiring extensive work to repair. Likewise, skipping your regularly scheduled dental appointments can mean tooth decay and gum infection goes untreated, causing severe dental issues.
What Can I Expect at a General Dentistry Appointment?
Your family dentist will typically perform a quick examination of your teeth, using tools to probe for sensitivity and – depending on when your last set of scans was done – x-rays or digital radiography to detect unseen decay. The teeth and gums will be thoroughly cleaned, and instruction given on how to properly brush and floss. After the cleaning, arrangements will be made to treat any cavities.
If needed, your family dentist can also perform simple extractions, place crowns or bridges, prescribe medication for infection (such as antibiotics and painkillers), diagnose more extensive dental issues and refer you to a specialist for extra care. Some, like Zelazny, also offer cosmetic dental services such as restorative dentistry, veneers, whitening and other options.
“We can provide most dental services in our own offices,” says Zelazny, referring to himself and practice partner Dr. David Wright. “We do refer medically complex patients to an oral surgeon for complicated extractions, and certain root canals are referred to an endodontist.”
I’m Scared of the Dentist - Will it Hurt?
Nearly everyone has run into the stereotypical jokes and horror stories about unsympathetic dentists yanking teeth with abandon and without offering their patients so much as an aspirin. However, the general dentists of today typically make a strong effort to make dental care a painless, anxiety-free experience.
Many family dentistry practices now offer their patients conscious sedation (the administration of commonly prescribed medication orally, as a shot or through an IV) that allows you to stay awake yet feel unafraid and relaxed during dental work. Nitrous oxide or laughing gas is another option that lessens anxiety and fear while allowing you to remain conscious.
In addition, the former sterile setting of dental offices has given way to rooms decorated in a calming manner, with music played softly and televisions mounted in ceilings above exam chairs so patients can distract themselves while dental work is being performed. Your dentist’s goal is to ensure each appointment is as stress free and painless as possible.
Can I Afford to Visit My Dentist?
The real question, according to Zelazny and other general dentists around the country, is can you afford not to? “If I could choose one thing I wish patients were more educated about, it’s that dental care really is more cost effective when the routine things are done in the timeframe recommended by your dentist,” Zelazny says.
“When you look at the costs of basic dental care, it varies from person to person, but you can ballpark it at around $200 a year for preventive services – in other words, to keep a healthy mouth healthy. Compared with the overwhelming costs of treating advanced tooth decay, periodontal disease and bone loss, it’s more than a bargain – it’s common sense.”