An endodontist is a type of specialized dentist that focuses mainly on diagnosing and treating issues that occur in the centermost part of the tooth, known as the dental pulp. Typically, if a person is experiencing a toothache or needs a root canal, they will need to see an endodontist.
This article discusses what endodontists do and the training needed to become a specialist in the field of endodontics.
Endodontics is the highly specialized branch of dentistry that focuses solely on the soft tissues within the teeth known as dental pulp. Issues with the dental pulp can occur because of both disease and injury.
Over the last two decades, endodontics has been focused heavily on new techniques and tools that can be used to perform root canal surgery, as well as root canal fillings, to help provide people with a better and more effective experience than people may get from a general dentist.
Teeth have what is known as a pulp chamber, which is a hollow space within the tooth. Connecting to the pulp chamber and extending downward into the tooth root is the root canal.
In a healthy tooth, the pulp chamber and root canal are filled with blood vessels and nerves that connect to the bone surrounding the tooth. Some teeth may have multiple roots, which means they have multiple root canals.
When there is an infection or injury to the nerves, such as tooth decay or a crack in the tooth, root canal treatment may be necessary. Endodontists are specially trained to fix these problems within the teeth, and not all dentists are able to treat the tiny canal area effectively.
Procedures performed by endodontists can be complicated. In a lot of cases, their specialized training allows them to save an otherwise unsavable tooth.
How Many Dentists Are Trained in Endodontics?
According to the American Association of Endodontists, fewer than 3% of dentists are effectively trained as endodontists.
Training and Certification
To become an endodontist, a person must first complete a four-year dentistry program at a registered dental school to earn a D.D.S. (doctor of dental surgery) degree.
The first half of training is done in class and is centered around biology and the structure and function of the body. That time is also dedicated to learning about various types of diseases that can affect the body. There are also specialized oral health classes focusing on:
- Anatomy of the mouth
- Diseases that can occur within the mouth
- Microscopic structure of teeth
The second half of the four-year program is dedicated to clinical learning. It involves direct patient care. It is a hands-on form of learning and is required to become a specialist. Students must also pass specific exams to be licensed to practice dentistry in the country.
Following graduation from the dentistry program, those interested in specializing in endodontics must complete a two- or three-year advanced program that focuses on endodontics. During that time, they will learn all about dental pulp, the issues that can affect it, and the treatments required to fix those issues.
The time spent in endodontics school will vary depending on the type of degree. The typical durations are:
- Certificates take two years
- M.S.D. (master of science in dentistry) takes three years
- Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy) takes three or more years (usually pursued by those wishing to teach or perform research)
Dentistry Grades and Endodontics
As with any advanced-degree program, a person who has completed their degree in dentistry must apply to an advanced endodontics program. Typically, students who have excelled academically and have received recommendation letters have a better chance of acceptance than those who have not.
Your first appointment with an endodontist will involve paperwork and an initial checkup of the affected area. You will be required to provide:
- Your medical history
- Consent forms
- A list of all the medications you take (both prescription and over the counter)
- Any dental health issues you’ve had in the past
- Contact information for your primary dentist
You will then have to have X-rays taken of your teeth so that when you see the endodontist, the provider will have a better picture of what needs to be addressed. That said, the following tips will help you prepare yourself for the appointment:
- Always have all your information with you so that the endodontist can see you on the day of your appointment and provide you with answers and a possible treatment plan.
- Be prepared to be treated right away depending on your specific case. Some may need you to wait for an appointment, while others will not, so it’s best to be ready for same-day treatment.
- You may need several appointments depending on the severity of your problem, so you may not be treated right away.
- Be ready to ask any and all questions you have so that you can make a well-informed decision regarding treatment.
Do I Have to Get a Root Canal?
No endodontist will ever force you into treatment that you do not want to do. They will examine your problem, provide you with all the information you need to know regarding their treatment plan, and allow you to choose whether you want to go ahead or not. There are other options that can be explored, including tooth extraction or tooth implants.
Endodontists are dental specialists that have chosen to focus solely on the branch of endodontics, with their main area of expertise being the health and treatment of dental pulp. To become an endodontist, people must complete a four-year dentistry program prior to applying for and completing an advanced program in endodontics.
The most notable procedure handled by endodontists is a root canal. However, they can address any issues that occur within the dental pulp. They use various methods and treatments to help restore a person’s oral health.
A Word From Verywell
Becoming an endodontist can be a lengthy process of seven or more years of postsecondary education. Because of that, people who typically choose this field are likely very passionate about dentistry and oral health, specifically in the field of endodontics.
If you are interested in this field of study, you can visit the American Association of Endodontists education page for more information about what they offer and what it takes to become an endodontist in your state.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do endodontists treat?
The main focus of endodontics is the dental pulp, which is the soft tissue found in the middle of the teeth. They also focus on the roots that are inside the gums. The most common procedure that endodontists perform is root canal surgery.
How long does it take to become an endodontist?
Endodontists are specialized dentists. They have to first complete a four-year dental school program after earning a bachelor of arts degree. Once that is complete, they can choose the length and type of certification in endodontics they wish to achieve, which takes a minimum of two more years.