Most of us understand why maintaining an at-home oral care routine is essential to preventing bacterial infections, and why getting your teeth checked and professionally cleaned every six months is crucial. But for some patients, cosmetic dentistry can also be integral beyond general dentistry.

What’s the difference between general dentistry vs. cosmetic dentistry? While they complement each other, there are a few important distinctions between the two. Both types of oral healthcare can play significant roles in your comprehensive dental care, and improving your overall understanding can help you choose the best dental team to meet your needs! Let’s take an in-depth look at the similarities and differences between cosmetic and general care. 


What is General Dentistry? 

General dentistry is focused on both preventing and treating any oral diseases. If you are experiencing any sort of pain, discomfort, or oral hygiene-related problem, you will likely want to pursue general dentistry care to stop any infections from spreading. 

At its core, general dentistry is focused on relieving any existing discomfort and preventing the development of any new discomfort. For most patients, this includes regular cleanings and x-rays, as well as other preventative care. General dentists are typically the primary dental professionals for people of all ages, from young children through older adults. General dentists are well-versed in finding the root of your discomfort, preventing disease, and working with you to improve your overall oral health. 

In addition to regular cleanings, general dentistry procedures may include root canals, x-rays, tooth extractions, cavity fillings, and treatment for gum diseases like gingivitis or periodontitis. General dentistry professionals can also do some types of cosmetic work, like teeth whitening or bonding. However, their primary focus is preventive care, including routine oral exams, professional cleanings, and fluoride treatments. 

What is Cosmetic Dentistry? 

In contrast to general dentistry, cosmetic dentistry focuses on improving the overall aesthetic appearance of your teeth and your smile. Patients who have missing teeth, eroded teeth, or significant discoloring will likely pursue cosmetic dentistry care to help rebuild their smile and confidence. 

This type of care expands beyond basic oral health by focusing on aesthetic procedures such as professional in-house teeth whitening, inlays, onlays, dental implants, dentures, tooth-colored fillings, or even porcelain veneers. Depending on your particular needs, this type of care can also include dental bridges, dental implants, and dental crowns. 

It is important to remember that, in some cases, cosmetic procedures may cost more than your traditional, general dentistry appointment. Some insurance companies consider cosmetic dentistry procedures elective, which can add a layer of financial complexity to these important aesthetic improvements. Every dental insurance plan is different, so patients will want to consult with their insurance provider to get a thorough understanding of their benefits. 

How Does Cosmetic Care Overlap with General Care? 

While it’s important to understand the differences between cosmetic vs. general dentistry, it’s also helpful to know that they often work together to improve your overall health and appearance. For example, if a patient needs a tooth extracted, numerous steps need to happen. The extraction itself is more of a general procedure because it helps keep the infection from spreading. But after the extraction, the patient may need to have the missing tooth replaced with a fixed implant, which is a cosmetic procedure. There may also be situations where a veneer is used to cover stains or cracks, which can improve the tooth’s appearance while also protecting the covered tooth from any further damage. As you can see, many patients benefit from both cosmetic and general dentistry!

The most important aspect of both types of dentistry is that all dentists – whether they focus on general or cosmetic care – have earned their Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degrees. This means they’re both fully qualified to address your dental needs. 

Choosing the Right Dental Professional 

Whether you’re experiencing tooth pain or struggling to put your best smile forward, we encourage you to research dentists in your area and learn more about the available general and cosmetic procedures. With so many care options available for both forms of dentistry, it’s essential to be up front with your dental care team about any concerns so they can tailor your care to address your unique needs.