Oral Health/Dental Specialists

What is a general dentist (DDS or DMD)?

To become a general dentist, a person must graduate from dental school and be awarded either a DDS or a DMD degree:

Picture of several different dental instruments

  • DDS - doctor of dental surgery

  • DMD - doctor of dental medicine

There is no difference between the degrees. Both dentists have the same education and completed the same curriculum requirements set by the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation. The difference is merely wording. Some institutions award a DMD degree. Others award a DDS degree. Generally, 3 or more years of undergraduate college education plus 4 years of dental school are needed to graduate and become a general dentist. State licensing boards accept either degree as equivalent. Both degrees allow licensed individuals to practice the same scope of general dentistry.

Specialized areas of dentistry

More postgraduate training is needed to become a dental specialist. A patient often talks with a dental specialist after referral from his or her general dentist. Dental/oral health specialists include:

  • Pediatric dentist. A pediatric dentist works with the oral healthcare of children, from infancy through the teenage years. Pediatric dentists often work closely with pediatricians, family healthcare providers, and other dental specialists in providing comprehensive medical and dental care.

  • Endodontist. Also called pulp specialists, endodontists have undergone specialized training in root canal therapy. This branch of dentistry is concerned with the morphology, physiology, and pathology of the human dental pulp and periradicular tissues. Dental pulp is the soft tissue on the interior of the tooth under both the enamel and the dentin. This includes the prevention and treatment of diseases and injuries of the pulp and associated periradicular conditions.

  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are orthopedic facial surgeons responsible for treating a wide variety of dental problems. This includes the removal of impacted teeth and reconstructive facial surgery. This dental specialty also includes the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, injuries, and defects that involve both functional and esthetic aspects of the hard and soft tissues of the oral and maxillofacial region. Many oral surgery training programs offer both an oral surgery certificate and a medical degree in the 6- to 7-year dual training program.

  • Oral pathologist. Oral pathologists diagnose and manage diseases of the oral and maxillofacial structures. They use clinical, microscopic, radiographic and other means.

  • Public health dentist. Public health dentists help to prevent and control dental diseases on a community-wide basis. They administer community-based dental health programs and provide dental health education.

  • Oral radiologist. Oral radiologists produce and interpret images. They use radiant energy for the diagnosis and management of diseases of the oral and maxillofacial area.

  • Orthodontist. Orthodontists are specially trained dentists. They specialize in the development, prevention, and correction of irregularities of the teeth, bite, and jaws. Orthodontists also have specialized training in facial abnormalities and disorders of the jaw.

  • Periodontist. Periodontists are responsible for the care and prevention of gum-related diseases, guided bone regeneration, and dental implants. It is the specialty of dentistry that includes the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases of the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth or their substitutes. It also involves the maintenance of the health, function, and esthetics of these structures and tissues.

  • Prosthodontist. Prosthodontists are dental specialists who have undergone additional training and certification in the restoration and replacement of broken teeth or missing teeth. They do this with crowns, bridges, implants, or removable prosthetics (dentures). It is the branch of dentistry that also specializes in understanding the dynamics of the smile, preserving a healthy mouth, and creating tooth replacements. Prosthodontists often work closely with other members of the oral healthcare team in restoring natural teeth, replacing missing teeth, or developing artificial substitutes for damaged oral and maxillofacial tissues. In addition, prosthodontists may also have specialized training in the following:

    • Post oral cancer reconstruction

    • Jaw joint problems (such as temporomandibular joint disorder)

    • Traumatic injuries of the mouth

    • Snoring and sleeping disorders

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