Why Your Dentist Might Refer You to a Specialist

| 7 min read

It can feel like a “break-up.” That’s the vibe you could get when your dentist refers you to a specialist.

It’s important to circle-back and understand why a dentist makes a specialist referral.

First, it’s not personal! And second, most dentist referrals are made to specialists they have a relationship with.

Why your dentist might refer you to a specialist

Dentistry is a broad field of health care. The American Dental Association (ADA) recognizes a range of treatment that can be provided by dental specialists.

  • Orthodontics (braces, aligners, etc)
  • Pediatric dentistry (children and adolescents)
  • Periodontics (gum tissue)
  • Prosthodontics (tooth replacements - dentures, implants, bridges, etc)
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery (wisdom teeth extractions, jaw and facial bone surgery, etc)
  • Endodontics (root canals)

While many general dentists have training in these care protocols, there are dental professionals trained in the often complex specifics of certain specialties.

Core training in a specific dental speciality provides you a treatment solution that could be outside of your dentist’s scope of care.PullQuote_Referrals

For example, your dentist could refer you to a specialist because of…

  • The extensive nature of your dental condition
  • The complex aspects of your necessary treatment
  • Certain medical complications that impact your dental care
  • The need for special equipment to achieve the desired treatment result
  • The location or proximity of the specialist compared to your dentist’s location

Specialization gives you a secondary resource your dentist trusts to provide you with the best treatment results.

What treatment could require a dentist referral?

Your dentist is trained to diagnose your dental issue. They’re also skilled at providing a broad scope of treatment.

On the occasion that your particular case requires treatment outside of their scope (as noted above), your dentist is also trained to know when a specialist referral is necessary.

Those occasions aren’t limited to the following procedures but these are the common scenarios your dentist might recommend a referral.

A difficult root canal

Root canal therapy gets a bad rap. You’ve perhaps heard the references.

Root canals are a relatively common and more comfortable procedure compared to the “press” they receive. Your dentist is trained and perhaps experienced in most root canal scenarios.

Even so, there can be occasions where the location or extensive details of root canal therapy exceed their training and experience.

  • A complex root system


  • A tooth that’s located in the back portion of your mouth

In this instance, your dentist could refer you to an endodontist. They specialize in more complex root canal procedures.

A dental implant in proximity to a nerve or your sinus

Like other treatment, your dentist is likely trained in tooth replacement with a dental implant. Many general dentists have increased their training to include various types of implant procedures.

A dental implant requires adequate bone and tissue for placement. Thus, a missing tooth location could require the implant to be placed in a potentially sensitive area (e.g. a located nerve or maxillary sinus cavity).

Your dentist has the option to refer you to a prosthodontist or an oral surgeon. They are skilled at working around the more sensitive or compromised areas of your mouth where an implant is the solution.

Wisdom teeth or other more complex tooth extractions

Your age, health history, the condition of your wisdom teeth, and the complexity of your tooth roots are common with extraction referrals.

An oral surgeon is your dentist’s go-to referral source for extracting wisdom teeth and/or any more complicated tooth extraction. Oral surgeons are equipped to provide a comfortable and safe extraction experience.

Advanced periodontal (gum) disease issues and gum grafts

Healthy gums help hold your teeth in place. Gum tissue that becomes diseased can weaken and cause problems for your teeth and overall health.

Your dentist and a registered dental hygienist are trained and equipped to diagnose gum disease. They can also provide therapy to help treat your condition.

On occasion, you could require gum repair such as a gum graft. Or a procedure that repairs gum recession (when your tissue pulls away from your tooth/teeth).

Your dentist will recommend a referral to a periodontist. Their speciality is gum disease and the treatment of more complex gum related conditions.

A referral from your dentist can be to your advantage. An online dentist is also connected to trusted specialist referral sources.

Virtual dental care is part of the team that helps assure you have convenient, comfortable access to the best dental solutions for your oral health - including a specialist referral.

The following resources provide useful information about an online dentist appointment and how to maximize your visit:

4 Reasons to Choose a Virtual Dental Appointment

How to Prepare for a Dental Visit and Talk to a Dentist About Your Condition

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