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Understanding Dental Degrees and Specialties

To become a general dentist, usually three or more years of undergraduate college plus four years of dental school are required. After graduation from dental school, a dentist is awarded either a DDS or a DMD degree:

  • DDS: doctor of dental surgery

  • DMD: doctor of dental medicine

There is no difference between the two degrees. Both dentists have received the same education and completed the same curriculum requirements set by the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation. The difference is just semantics: some schools award a DMD degree, while others award a DDS degree. State licensing boards accept either degree as equivalent, and both degrees allow licensed individuals to practice the same scope of general dentistry.

Additional post-graduate training is required to become a dental specialist. Dental/oral health specialists include the following:

  • Pediatric dentist: A pediatric dentist deals particularly with the oral health care of children, from infancy through the teenage years.

  • Endodontist: Also called pulp specialists, endodontists are trained in performing root canal procedures. This branch of dentistry deals with the physiology and pathology of the human dental pulp (the soft tissue area within the tooth) and the prevention and treatment of diseases and injuries of the pulp.

  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeon: These orthopedic facial surgeons treat many dental problems, including the removal of impacted teeth, as well as reconstructive facial surgery and dental implants.

  • Orthodontist: Orthodontists specialize in the development, prevention, and correction of irregularities of the teeth, bite, and jaw.

  • Periodontist: Periodontists are responsible for the care and prevention of gum-related diseases, guided bone regeneration, and dental implants.

  • Prosthodontist: Prosthodontists have training and certification in the restoration and replacement of broken teeth with crowns, bridges, or removable prosthetics (dentures). Prosthodontists often work closely with other members of the oral health care team in restoring natural teeth, replacing missing teeth, and/or developing substitutes for damaged oral tissues.

  • Oral and maxillofacial radiologist: These specialists diagnose and manage oral diseases and disorders using X-rays and other forms of imaging.

  • Oral pathologist: Oral pathologists have training in research, identification, and diagnosis of diseases of the mouth, teeth, and surrounding regions.

People are usually referred by their general dentist to specialists that have training beyond the scope of the general dentist.

"DDS/DMD." American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/public/topics/dds_dmd.asp. Accessed 2009.

"Dentistry Definitions." American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/495.aspx. Accessed 2014.

"Dentists: Doctors of Oral Health." American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/public/dentists_docs.asp#specialty. Accessed 2009.

Author: Kate Karczewski
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