Should I Shadow a General Dentist or Specialist?

This question goes back to our previous article "Why do I need to Shadow a Dentist". It all circles back to "do I want to be a dentist?" Let's break down how shadowing general dentists and specialists help answer this question.


General Dentists vs. Specialists

According to the American Dental Association (ADA) about 20% of dentists are specialists. As such, if you're going to dental school, it is likely that you will be a general dentist after graduating. General dentists are a jack of all trades. They can do anything and everything they feel comfortable with. However, there may be some procedures or situations they feel it would be in the best interest of the patient to see someone with a bit more training. That is where specialists come into the picture.


ADA Recognized Specialties

The following is a list of all currently recognized specialties recognized by the American Dental Association.

  1. Dental Anesthesiology Help with the sedation of patients who would otherwise not be able to receive the dental care they need.

  2. Dental Public Health Help develop policies and programs to reform healthcare.

  3. Endodontics Help retain natural teeth through root canals and other procedures.

  4. Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology Research causes of diseases of the mouth and jaw.

  5. Oral & Maxillofacial Radiology Help interpret x-rays to diagnose oral conditions & diseases.

  6. Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery The "Oral Surgeon" not only extracts wisdom teeth, but also treats cleft lip & palate, injuries, cancer, and more.

  7. Oral Medicine Help in the oral health of medically complex patients.

  8. Orofacial Pain Diagnoses, manages, and treats pain associated with the head & mouth.

  9. Orthodontics Not only do they place braces, but they also adjust bites, and prevent problems with missing or over-retained teeth.

  10. Periodontics Specialists in the structures around the tooth-the gums and bone.

  11. Pediatric Dentistry They love to treat kids, teens, and special needs patients.

  12. Prosthodontics Specialists in the replacement of missing teeth.

Why should I shadow a specialist?

Now that you have a brief overview of the types of specialists why would shadowing a specialist be beneficial?

Exposure to different procedures

As we said before, some general dentists don't feel comfortable with every procedure, or they may feel the case would be best handled by a specialist. Therefore, you may not get to see certain procedures if you only shadow a general dentist.


Decide if you want to specialize

While this shouldn't be your focus at this point, it might give you some direction while you are in dental school. Remember, your main objective in shadowing is deciding if you would enjoy being a dentist, not trying to decide what specialty you should pursue. Some interviewers may ask you if you want to specialize and it is a turn-off to many if you come in saying you already know you want to specialize (they feel you don't have enough knowledge/experience to make that decision already).


Get different perspectives

Just like getting to learn from different general dentists, you can get new opinions and perspectives from specialists. While a general dentist might have a certain philosophy on how to treat children, a pediatric dentist may have more experience and offer an alternative way to handle situations.


Form new connections

Lastly, it never hurts to form new connections. Perhaps you are trying to decide if you should specialize, now you have someone to discuss things with. Maybe you did specialize and now you have a potential job. Or maybe you decide to be a general dentist, now you have someone you trust to refer to when needed.


Our Thoughts/Recommendations

If you were to ask us, we would recommend you spend the majority of your shadowing hours with general dentists. This comes back to the fact that the majority of dentists are general dentists and as we said before, the objective of shadowing is to decide if you would enjoy dentistry.


Now does this mean you can't shadow some specialists? Of course not! We actually recommend you do it for a few sessions. As stated before, there are great benefits you can gain from seeing specialists in action!


What are your thoughts about shadowing dental specialties? Did you spend more time shadowing specialists or general dentists? What questions do you have? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!


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