Has your dentist referred you to a specialist? Find out more about specialist providers and dental referral letters.
When you have a chronic or more complex oral health problem, your dentist or doctor may recommend specialist treatment. If this is the case, they’ll give you a dental referral to a specialist provider.
A dental specialist is a dentist who has completed additional postgraduate training in a registered speciality. Along with qualifications and experience as a general dentist, these practitioners have additional skills that may make them a better fit for providing certain treatments or services.
You may need a dental referral letter to see some specialists, but this isn't always necessary. You may be able to claim some specialist services on Medicare or your health insurance, depending on factors like your health fund, your cover and its annual limits.
Do referrals expire? How long does a referral letter last?
Referrals can expire. If you wait long enough, your oral health circumstances may change, and a dentist’s assessment may no longer be accurate. Typically, you can use a dental referral any time within 12 months, unless your doctor or dentist notes otherwise.
This time limit begins from the date you first see a specialist, not the date your doctor or dentist issues the referral. It may be renewed by your dentist if you need ongoing care. A referral is not necessarily tied to one specialist or clinic.
What are the different types of dental specialists?
Specialists are general dentists who have completed further years of education to be recognised as an expert in their field. Some specialists also provide general dental services.
Different types of dental specialists include:
- Paediatric dentist – specialists in children's dentistry, including preventive measures against tooth decay and corrective treatments such as fillings.
- Endodontist – specialists in root canal therapy and other infections of the inner tooth (endodontics). While general dentists can provide root canal treatments, you may be referred to an endodontist if you have a more complex case.
- Orthodontist – specialists in malocclusions (that is, teeth or jaws that are positioned incorrectly) and orthodontic treatments such as braces or aligners.* Some dentists provide orthodontic treatments, but orthodontists have completed extra training which enables them to treat more severe cases.
- Periodontist – specialists in gum problems. You may be referred to a periodontist if you have advanced gum disease (periodontitis) that needs to be treated. Some periodontists also offer cosmetic treatments such as gum reshaping (gingivoplasty or gingivectomy).
- Prosthodontist – specialists in dental prosthetics. If you have damaged or missing teeth, you may be referred to a prosthodontist for a crown, bridge, dentures or other treatment to restore the natural look and function of your smile.*
- Oral and maxillofacial surgeon – specialists who are qualified to perform surgery on the face, mouth and jaws. An oral and maxillofacial surgeon may provide a wide range of services, including wisdom teeth removal, dental implants, removing tumours and performing biopsies.*
- Dental radiologist – specialists in dental x-rays and other types of diagnostic imaging. Radiologists analyse x-rays to detect abnormalities that can help dentists to diagnose and treat problems with the teeth and jaws.
Do all specialists require referrals?
It's possible to see some specialists without a referral. For instance, some orthodontists accept patients without referrals.
But not only do some specialists require a referral letter, it’s usually wise to see a general dentist or doctor first. They can help you understand your oral health more holistically and make a more informed recommendation about what kind of specialist you might need to see. Plus, a referral from your dentist or doctor can be useful for getting a priority appointment and may make it easier to claim for certain services on your health fund or Medicare.
A dental referral letter should include details of your condition and the reason for the referral. The referring dentist or healthcare professional needs to sign and date this letter.
Does private health insurance cover specialists?
Some specialist services may be covered by your health fund, depending on your insurer, your policy and your individual circumstances.
Speak with a professional
Whether you want to see a general dentist or a specialist, search for clinics near you.
*Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding with a surgical or invasive procedure, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.