Oral healthcare plays an extremely important role in our general wellbeing as we need our mouths to carry out the most elementary human functions, such as eating and talking. Dentists are the professionals who provide the care to prevent and treat problems that can affect the teeth and gums and surrounding areas.
There are currently over 20,000 dentists registered and practising in the UK, most of whom split their time between private and NHS work. Aside from dentistry, the industry relies on the skills of other trained professionals, including hygienists, nurses, dental technicians and administrators.
Dentistry is the umbrella term which covers nine oral healthcare specialisms: general dentistry; orthodontics; periodontics; prosthodontics; forensic odontology; oral pathology; paediatric dentistry; endodontics; and maxillofacial surgery.
- Orthodontics focuses around the prevention and treatment of malocclusions – misalignment of the teeth or jaws or an uneven bite.
- Periodontics concentrates on the areas in and around the teeth, including the gums and the bone sockets that support the teeth – the alveolar bone.
- Prosthodontists specialise in the cosmetic restoration or replacement of missing or damaged teeth.
- Forensic odontology is the science of using teeth and bite marks as a means of identifying people and collecting evidence for hospital reports and police cases.
- Paediatric dentists deal exclusively with children’s oral healthcare and sometimes work additionally with people with special educational needs.
- Endodontics is the study of the tissues that make up the inside of the teeth and the surrounding gums.
- Oral pathologists study the causes and effects of diseases which occur in the jaw, mouth and neck.
- Maxillofacial surgeons deal with diseases and injuries affecting the mouth and the surrounding areas, including the jaws, face and neck. Although it comprises one of the nine areas of dentistry, it is also a recognised medical specialism in its own right.