“A prosthodontist is a dentist who specializes in the restoration and replacement of teeth,” explained Navy Capt. Robert Taft, chairman of the Prosthodontics Department at NPDS, located at Walter Reed Bethesda. “There’s a lot that goes into your smile – your teeth, your cheeks, your lips. Everything owns some space. The biggest complexity to what we do is when that is out of alignment … we have to work with all those features, to realign everything. We’re responsible for the rehabilitation, at all levels of complexity, to re-establish one’s smile and function.”
Maintaining a simple smile can actually be quite complex, requiring prosthodontists to be highly trained. They complete four years of college, four years of dental school, and then work as dentists for at least five years before going on to complete an additional three years of specialized training, Taft added. Their role involves creating oral prostheses or surgical implants to replace missing teeth, or to correct a deformation of the mouth and jaws, where teeth are missing. It could be from trauma, cancer, or the way a person was born, he explained.
Prosthodontics can interact with all members of a patient’s treatment team.
“It’s a team effort between us and other specialties,” Petrich said. Prosthodontists are considered the “bus driver” or the “hub,” as a referral specialty, sending patients to other specialists for further types of treatment, he said.”
“We have the capability to digitally manipulate a reconstruction before the patient even shows up, and have everything pretty much worked out… if they were injured in the field,” Taft explained. “We can make all the manipulations of bone and soft tissue that we need to, and then design either a surgical template, or actual restoration, to rehabilitate. It’s all done remotely.”
Prosthodontists use their ingenuity to solve dental problems. Petrich said it’s like an “evolution,” working with the patient to find the best solution and “making it work for every person who comes in the door.”
“It’s the ultimate creativity … Probably 85 percent of what we do is making a solution to a physical puzzle, and just figuring it out,” Petrich said. “That’s physically a big part of what we do, but what it’s actually about is figuring out why and how we make it work for a patient.”
Navy Capt. Dan Ellert, a prosthodontist in NPDS, also enjoys solving complex cases, deconstructing elements that ultimately make an impact on a patient’s overall well-being. “Being able to provide that for the patient is something that drew me in,” Ellert said. “It’s tying the arts and sciences together.”