Oral health professionals are trained to care for our teeth, gums and entire oral-facial system that allows us to eat, speak and smile. There are many different types of oral health professionals in Ireland, who perform different roles and have different areas of expertise. A distinction is made between professionals who are registered and those who are unregistered. Registered professionals have a published code of ethics which they are obliged to follow by their registration body the Dental Council or Medical Council. It can be difficult to understand the roles of each type, therefore, this blog will attempt to explain the roles of oral health professionals in some depth.
Dentist: Firstly, a registered dentist who is a general dental practitioner is someone most of us would be familiar with. Dentists carry out mouth examinations, diagnose health and disease in the hard and soft tissues of our mouth and other facial structures. They carry out corrective oral care for the most common oral diseases in children and adults. They can diagnose many different illnesses and diseases from examining the oral cavity due to their extensive knowledge of the human body. Dentists will also refer patients to specialist colleagues to diagnose and treat more complicated conditions.
Dental Nurse: A dental nurse provides assistance to the dentist. Their role involves sorting all the necessary dental instruments required for the dental treatment being carried out, including properly cleaning and sterilising the instruments. They will also be involved in providing patient care and writing notes about the condition of the oral cavity and teeth as the dentist is explaining to the patient.
Hygienist: A hygienist is a registered oral health professional. The most important role of a hygienist is to teach a patient how to look after their own teeth and gums, helping them to prevent dental decay and gum disease. This includes demonstrating the correct method of brushing, interdental cleaning, use of toothpaste and how to evaluate effectiveness of cleaning. A hygienist can assist the patient with cleaning by carrying out a scaling of hard deposits from the teeth followed by polishing. A hygienist can also place sealants and take radiographs (x rays).
Paediatric Dentist: A paediatric dentist is a registered dentist who limits their practice to treating patients that are infants, children or teenagers. A paediatric dentist is specially trained to diagnose and treat children up to 16 years of age. This includes behaviour management techniques that make children more relaxed in a dental surgery. A paediatric dentist carries out dental check-ups and corrective oral care for children from as early as their first birthday.
Orthodontist: An orthodontist is a registered specialist dentist who is qualified to diagnose, treat and prevent irregular or misaligned teeth, jaws or biting patterns which may be corrected by combining the use of braces with plastic aligners or with braces alone. An orthodontist will usually commence treatment on children at about 11 years while adults can be treated at almost any age because of technological advances.
Endodontist: An endodontist is a registered dentist with extra training and qualifications who limits their practice of dentistry to the treatment of teeth that are so badly damaged by dental delay that they have lost their blood supply and are no longer vital. The endodontist cleans and disinfects the root canal system and fills and seals the root canals so that the tooth can no longer infect the surrounding area of bone or soft tissue. This preserves the tooth in the jaw.
Periodontists: A periodontist is a registered dentist with extra training and qualifications who limits their practice to the diagnosis and management of periodontal (gum) diseases. Periodontal diseases can be slowly progressing and insidious over many years before being diagnosed leading to gum recession, bone loss and tooth loss in severe untreated cases. Periodontal diseases can also affect general health.
Prosthodontics: This type of dentistry involves replacing missing teeth and tissues through dentures, bridges or crowns which may be fixed or removable.
Dental Technician: A dental technician works closely with most of the oral health professionals above. There are dental technicians who work for a range of specialities and they construct appliances from a design prescribed by a dentist. They may work attached to a dental practice or more usually in a large laboratory.
Clinical Dental Technician: A Clinical Dental Technician is a registered dental professional who is trained to work directly with the public to prescribe, design and construct full and partial denture prostheses.
Oral Surgeon: An Oral Surgeon is a registered specialist dentist with extra training and qualifications who is trained on a referral basis to diagnose and treat oral diseases of the mouth, jaws including removal of impacted wisdom teeth, difficult surgical extractions and other surgical procedures not requiring the expertise of a consultant.
Oral and Maxillofacial Consultant/Surgeon: This professional is a dual qualified registered dentist and doctor with further higher specialist medical training who works in a hospital setting. This surgeon diagnoses and treats referred patients with complicated diseases and irregularities of the mouth, jaws, face and neck including cancer in these regions
Oral Health Promotion Specialist: An individual that works in oral health promotion practices in the community, such as schools, businesses or other community settings, spreading the message about good oral hygiene, diet, nutrition and good oral health practices. He/She would have necessary dental and health promotion expertise in any of the roles mentioned above to offer oral health advice and be able to make recommendations on the condition of the oral cavity including referral to a dentist.
This is not an extensive list of oral health professionals, however, they are the most common types of oral health professionals in Ireland. However, in order for you to receive the appropriate level of care that you may require, it is always recommended that you visit your general dentist initially who will diagnose and treat your basic needs first and refer you if necessary for specialist care. Most dental care in Ireland is carried out by general dental practitioners.