When should my dentist refer me to a specialist?

I see a lot of patients who need complex dental work that may require the expertise of a specialist – from complicated root canals and implants to periodontal issues and tooth extractions. And more often than not, the patient will ask if I will be the one performing the procedure. They have grown to trust me, and feel comfortable under my care.

However, it’s not always in the best interest of the patient for their general dentist to handle these procedures. Just like with any other profession, there are certain skills and procedures that each dentist is trained to handle, and this will vary greatly depending on their education and training.

In our office, we typically refer out the following procedures:

  • Root canals in the back of the mouth. Each root canal will vary in degree of difficulty based on a number of factors, such as the complexity of the root system. The further back in the mouth you get, the more complex the root system becomes. That is why I refer out any root canal from the middle of the mouth to the back of the mouth.
  • Implants near a nerve or the maxillary sinus. Implants also vary in difficulty depending on their location. For teeth on the top arch near the maxillary sinus, or those in close proximity to a nerve, I typically refer patients to a specialist. These are more challenging and come with more risks that a specialist is trained to address. A patient whose bone is infected or needs to be rebuilt before an implant can be placed is also typically referred to a specialist.
  • Complex tooth extractions. In a previous blog, we discussed who should remove your wisdom teeth. In addition, we typically refer out any extraction where the tooth has a complex root anatomy or the patient has hypertension, diabetes or a history of heart failure. For patients with other medical conditions, extractions are higher-risk and an oral surgeon is equipped to handle medical emergencies.
  • Gum grafting and complex periodontal issues. We refer 100% of patients to a periodontist for gum grafting and treatment for recession.

In our office, we view each treatment on a case-by-case basis to determine who is the best person to perform the procedure. If I recommend that you see a specialist, it’s not because I don’t want to do the work. It’s likely because the specialist is more proficient at the procedure and will create a better result.

We don’t receive kick-backs from specialists when we refer a patient, and we do not recommend someone who we don’t have an established relationship with. I understand that seeing someone new can be scary, but I assure you that it’s in your best interest and will have the best outcomes for your long-term dental health.

On the flip side, if your dentist says they can perform the procedure and you aren’t sure if they’re the best person for the job, ask them a few questions:

  1. How often do you do this procedure?
  2. Do you have any examples of your work?
  3. Can I speak with a previous patient you’ve done this on?

If you’re still not comfortable, it’s certainly your right to get a second opinion from a specialist. We’re happy to provide you with the names of a few specialists in our area.

Received a diagnosis or referral that you aren’t sure about? Contact our office at (813) 689-4226 to schedule a consultation.

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