When I was a young college student, I had an interaction with an endodontist that forever changed the course of my life. But before I met him, I had no idea what an endodontist was.

I had been suffering for months from debilitating pain in my mouth, and no one could diagnose me. No one, that is, until I was referred to an endodontist. He was a cool, surfer dude who was so patient and kind. He asked me about my symptoms and listened to my story.

Then, he diagnosed the source of my pain and explained what was happening in my mouth. From there, he went over all of my treatment options. One root canal later, and I was out of pain, my swelling was gone, and I felt great! Best of all, I got to keep the tooth, instead of having to get it extracted.

From there, I decided to become a dentist. After I earned my dental degree, I returned to school to complete a residency in endodontics. I became the first board-certified female endodontist in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I’ve been practicing for 15 years.

So, what is an endodontist?

An endodontist is a dentist who specializes in endodontics.

Okay, so, what the heck is endodontics?!

Endodontics (or “endo” for short) is a branch of dentistry that focuses on healing your teeth, from the inside out. In fact, “endo” in Greek means “inside.”

When you have an injury, infection, or a deep cavity or crack, bacteria can get through the hard enamel coating on your teeth and harm the pulp inside. This can be really painful, and it can even cause swelling and bone loss. Alternatively, you may have zero pain at all! It’s also possible that you might have different tooth stories and symptoms, from tooth to tooth in your own mouth.

We use treatments like root canals to clean out the bacteria inside your pulp and the teeny, tiny canals inside your teeth; this restores your tooth to full health and prevents it from having to be extracted.

Plus, we’re experts at diagnosing the source of your tooth pain, and providing other endodontic treatments like apicoectomies and MTA vital pulp therapy.

What’s the difference? What is an endodontist vs dentist?

You may have had a root canal performed by your general dentist in the past, or your dentist might want to do one now.

Many dentists do perform root canals semi-regularly, and one of my missions in life is to train dentists on root canal skills. This is because, on average, dentists perform two root canals a week, and they often work on teeth that are a bit simpler to treat, such as anterior teeth (your front teeth).

But sometimes, you might want to seek out a specialist. Endodontists perform on average 25 root canals every week, and they aren’t afraid to take trickier cases, like molars or teeth with complications like previous root canals, trauma, or resorption.

In the same way you’d see a cardiologist—not your general practitioner—for a heart concern, you might opt to see an endodontist for a root canal or other endodontic procedure.

We endodontists live and breathe tooth saving! In fact, I like to think of endodontists as “tooth savers.” 

What should I expect when I see an endodontist?

At my endodontic practice, the most important task I have is to listen. I ask my patients a bunch of questions about what’s been happening in their mouths, and what their overall health is like. Our bodies are interconnected, and you might be surprised how much your mouth impacts the rest of your body, and vice versa.

I also listen to your referring dentist by reading the referral slip and reviewing any x-rays they took.

Finally, I listen to your tooth! Not with my ears, of course, but I listen to the story it’s telling. I take more x-rays and 3-D cone beam images that are angled a little differently from the ones your dentist took, to look at everything in detail. I use diagnostic tests like a cold test and palpation to see what’s happening. I look in your mouth, gently touching. There’s a lot any endodontist can tell when they’re able to take an in-depth look at your mouth.

Once I’ve made a diagnosis, and I have determined that you really do need endodontic care, I’ll explain everything I’ve learned and what it means. That way, you understand what’s going on with your tooth. From there, I’ll present your treatment options, giving you a thorough run-down of the pros and cons of each. It’s important to me that patients are empowered to make informed decisions about their healthcare.

Unless you’re in extreme pain that day, your procedure will most likely be scheduled for another day. This helps you make your decision, and it also ensures that I stay honest and recommend only the exact procedures you truly need.

As far as what you should expect from your treatment, it depends on your procedure. However, please don’t shy away from asking your endodontist any and all questions you have. Our whole job is to support your oral health, and we get excited when we have a patient who is engaged in their oral health.

For more information about what an endodontist is and does, and how you can keep your mouth healthy, please purchase a copy of my e-book for patients called Tooth Wisdom: The Empowered Patient’s Guide to Saving Your Smile. It’s a full-color, multi-chapter e-book that walks you through your endodontic care, from root to crown!

– Sonia