Unlike the medical profession, in which physicians follow a specialized route, all dentists receive the same standardized training for nearly all dental services and procedures. This allows general dentists to offer everything from dental cleanings, exams, and cosmetic treatment to root canals, implants, and preventative care.
But sometimes special situations require special solutions, and, in many cases, it falls to Dr. Joe Chen, DDS—a prosthodontist who joined Dental Depot DFW’s team—to help find the answer.
Prosthodontists are general dentists who specialize in dental restoration cases where the teeth or surrounding tissue and bone are damaged or missing, such as severe tooth loss due to advanced gum disease, trauma, or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). In addition to earning a general dentistry degree, prosthodontists also complete a three-year specialty program that enables them to recognize and resolve these more complex restorative cases, typically with the use of oral prosthetics.
Dr. Chen, who received his prosthodontist certification from the Loma Linda University School of Dentistry in California, describes this additional training as a way to “fast forward” clinical training, providing prosthodontic students with the breadth and depth of experience that would take them 10 to 15 years to gain as a general dentist.
“Anyone with a general dentistry degree can perform the same procedures I can,” explains Dr. Chen, “but by offering access to different schools of thought and approaches to dental restoration, prosthodontist training allows me to see a situation more creatively, giving me more tools and options for fixing a problem more confidently.”
For a patient suffering from significant oral health issues, this means a better, more accurate prognosis, more predictable treatment and results, and less uncertainty.
Patients are referred to Dr. Chen from a general dentist for a variety of reasons. Some patients may have been treated with restorative work like crowns, fillings, or root canals multiple times by a general dentist but the treatment keeps failing.
Other times, dentists may refer a case they aren’t sure how to approach, one that needs a more comprehensive plan with focused treatment, or one that entails something outside of their scope, such as collapsed or destructive bites, congenital damage, and complex full mouth rehabilitations where every tooth needs to be restored.
Most of the dental damage Dr. Chen repairs is acquired from wear and tear over time, especially from patients who crunch and grind their teeth. Sometimes the damage is the result of a medical condition, drug use, trauma, or cancer—something that causes the teeth and bones of the jaw to break down.
Patients with extensive damage or particularly complicated conditions often require the expertise of several specialists—including periodontists, orthodontists, and oral maxillofacial surgeons—to create a cohesive, multifaceted treatment plan. When collaboration is required to treat difficult cases, the prosthodontist, with his or her advanced training and broad scope of experience, is usually the one to take the lead.
“We tend to be referred to as the quarterback of the team,” says Dr. Chen, “because we have the tools and techniques to build a better, more detailed plan that produces more reliable long-term results.”
For the team at Dental Depot, that means less backtracking on treatment plans for a unified, streamlined approach to care that ensures a patient never loses progress toward their ultimate oral health goals.
Working with the Dental Depot team–which boasts an array of specialists–is beneficial to Dr. Chen, too. From the sleep medicine specialist to the orthodontist, every dentist on the team has been trained differently, and everyone has unique experience to contribute.
“I’ve spoken extensively with several members of our team about possible treatments for certain conditions, how to approach different bites, how to use implants better,” says Dr. Chen. “Having these different resources allows me to continue my education in areas I haven’t touched too deeply myself, expanding the scope of what I can recommend to patients.”
The greatest advantage to a team of professionals nearby, though, is “having someone on staff I can trust, so when I’m given options, I can be confident in the guidance I’m getting.”
For Dr. Chen, oral health is more than a great smile; it’s about educating patients on their dental needs and helping them take an active role in their treatment for long-lasting benefits.
“A lot of people don’t understand how big of an impact their dental health can have on their life,” says Dr. Chen. “Humans adapt, and so many people just learn to live with whatever problems they have.”
But, he emphasizes, it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Being presented with options for improving their oral health can be life-changing for some patients. As prosthodontists, we can give them more creative ways to have an overall better quality of life,” he says. “We may not always have the perfect answer, but at least we’ve given people the opportunity to make a better, healthier decision, rather than having to settle for what they have.”
And giving people hope when they feel they’ve run out, Dr. Chen says, is the most rewarding part of his job.