Specialties exist for a reason: nobody can do everything … let alone do everything well.

It’s a concept that makes sense, but is sometimes hard to convey to patients … and sometimes to dentists themselves. The general feeling here is that a dentist is a dentist, right? And since more than a few people are uncomfortable with our profession as a whole, asking patients to leave someone they at least marginally trust and have work done by a total stranger … well, that can be disarming, to say the least.

You’ve been through school, so you understand: even basic dentistry is complicated, which is why it warrants dental specialists. Patients, on the other hand, can be prone to getting upset that their dentist can’t do everything “in house.”┬áThat is understandable: the person will have to set up an appointment, fill out more paperwork, drive to a strange office so a stranger can perform a procedure on a patient that probably doesn’t want to have done in the first place. It’s a huge pain … then the person will have to come back to your office for more work.

It is the rare practitioner who has not had a patient ask, “Can’t you just do it?” And the answer is always complicated: Yes, technically, I probably could, you say. I have enough medical knowledge that I could most likely extract that tooth with a minimum of damage. But technically, a plastic surgeon has that much medical training, as well. So does a proctologist. If you want to get down to brass tacks, so does a veterinarian … is THAT who you want pulling your teeth?

When you refer your patient to a specialist, you’re putting that patient’s health in the best hands possible. You’re effectively say that the patient’s well-being is more important to you than the patient’s convenience.

Still, it’s easy to convince yourself you’re doing the patient a favor by performing work yourself. If you think about it, there are plenty of (admittedly shallow) reasons to do so: it’s usually more convenient for you, too. Plus, you’re losing out on potential income by referring. It might seem tempting, but you only have to screw things up once to realize it’s not worth it for you.

More money? Sure. But since we generally bill by the job, not the time, you have to ask how much time you’ll waste doing what a specialist has specific training and experience doing. Your patient might see it as cost-effective, but your accountant won’t. And that is assuming everything goes right the first time: it’s really hard to save money when you have to re-do work because you’re operating in unfamiliar territory.

It’s reasonable to presume that patients come to you because they trust you to do high-quality work. By the same token, it only makes sense to send them to the specialists that you trust. After all, you don’t want problems coming back to fall in your lap.

Consider this: you probably don’t want to hire someone that claims to be great at everything. That goes far beyond just a dental practice, as this article points out. But if you think about any general dentists you’ve met who claim to be good at everything … would you trust them in your practice?

It’s theoretically possible to be a master in all aspects of dentistry, of course. But dentistry itself is a specialty of medicine, and there are subspecialties within the field. Most general dentists provide high quality work on the most common procedures, and that’s really what is expected. Oral surgeons, periodontists, endodontists and more offer advanced training and additional years of schooling to become experts in their area. And a smart dentist knows, when the specialist can do a better job handling your needs, it’s time to refer.