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Oral Health and Dental Specialists

What is a general dentist (DDS or DMD)?

Male dentist standing and smiling in front of an exam chair

After graduating 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 the same education. They have also completed the same curriculum requirements set by the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation. The difference is wording that is determined by the universities. 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 is required to graduate and become a general dentist. State licensing boards accept either degree. And both degrees allow licensed professionals to practice the same scope of general dentistry.

Specialized areas of dentistry

Additional postgraduate training is required to become a dental specialist. A person often consults with a dental specialist after referral from their general dentist. Dental and oral health specialists include:

  • Pediatric dentists. They specialize in oral healthcare for children from infancy through the teen years. Pediatric dentists often work closely with pediatricians, family healthcare providers, and other dental specialists in complete medical and dental care.

  • Endodontists. Also called pulp specialists, endodontists have specialized training in root canal therapy. This branch of dentistry is concerned with the morphology, physiology, and pathology of the soft tissue on the interior of the tooth under both the enamel and the dentin (dental pulp) and tooth root tissues. This includes preventing and treating diseases and injuries of the pulp and related tooth root conditions.

  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeons. These orthopedic facial surgeons treat many dental problems. This includes removing impacted teeth and doing reconstructive facial surgery. They also diagnose and treat diseases, injuries, and defects, including both functional and esthetic aspects of the hard and soft tissues of the mouth and jaw. 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 pathologists. These specialists diagnose and manage mouth and jaw diseases using clinical, microscopic, radiographic, and other means.

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

  • Oral radiologists. These specialists create and interpret images made by radiant energy. The images are used to diagnose and manage mouth and jaw diseases.

  • Orthodontists. They specialize in developing, preventing, and correcting irregularities of the teeth, bite, and jaws. They also have special training in facial abnormalities and jaw disorders.

  • Periodontists. They are responsible for the care and prevention of gum-related diseases, guided bone regeneration, and dental implants. This includes the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases of the supporting and nearby tissues of the teeth or their substitutes. These specialists also help to maintain the health, function, and look of these structures and tissues.

  • Prosthodontists. These providers have additional training and certification in restoring and replacing broken or missing teeth. This is done using crowns, bridges, implants, or removable prosthetics (dentures). This branch of dentistry also specializes in understanding the dynamics of the smile, preserving a healthy mouth, and creating tooth replacements. These specialists often work closely with other oral healthcare team members in restoring natural teeth, replacing missing teeth, or making artificial substitutes for damaged mouth and jaw tissues. Prosthodontists also have specialized training in:

    • Post oral cancer reconstruction

    • Jaw joint problems (such as temporomandibular joint disorder)

    • Traumatic injuries of the mouth

    • Snoring and sleeping disorders

Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Kapner MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2020
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