The first decision you must make is what dentist you are going to see. While individual practitioners have their specific approach to treatment, the fundamental issue for you is the choice between the Procedure Focused practices versus a Problem Focused office. Procedure focused offices tend to look at individual tooth problems, i.e drill and fill. You have pain from a particular tooth, the dentist treats that particular issue with minimal regard for other issues you may be unaware of. For many people the course of dental diseases is protracted over many years. This fact allows you to get away with a procedure focus for a while. However, this approach will often lead to more work needing to be redone in the future.
Problem focused practices (sometimes called Holistic practices) take into account the overall dental and medical conditions as well as potential future dental problems as part of making treatment decisions for the immediate concerns. This approach emphasizes the treatment and control of dental disease and the overall function of the dentition. Such an approach tends to address more than your immediate perceived problems but leads to more predictable restorations and avoidance of large-scale failures. Such practices emphasize a long term Doctor/Patient relationship compared to the episodic relationship of Procedure Focused practices based on emergent dental problems. This approach focus’ on the establishment and maintenance of dental health.
Is one approach better?
That depends on many factors. If your needs are minimal, procedure focused practices are very efficient in treating the few isolated concerns you may have. However in the early stages, most dental disease has minimal symptoms so patients are usually in a bad position to assess their needs. Waiting for symptoms such as pain and swelling means problems have progressed much further than they should have and treatment will be far more complicated.
Patients with several different dental problems tend to do better with Problem Focused practitioners. In this setting finding treatment solutions that achieve a harmony in addressing the multiple concerns is best. As we get older the complications from the accumulation of multiple past dental procedures tends to magnify. In adults the need to view cases in the entirety is essential to achieve the highest levels of success.
By their very nature, some dental specialties are more procedure oriented. Orthodontists, Oral Surgeons and Endodontists are specialty-trained dentists that are seen only when specific procedures are needed. Once the specific treatment is completed you return full time to your general dentist to continue care. Periodontists, Pedodontists, Prosthodontists tend to have longer-term relationships with their patients due to nature of the problems they deal with. You may still see your general dentist as part of your care as well.