Upon graduation from dental school -- to become a general dentist -- 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 merely semantics -- some institutions award a DMD degree, while others award a DDS degree. Generally, three or more years of undergraduate college education plus four years of dental school are required to graduate and become a general dentist. 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 is a specialist in the field of dentistry, which includes oral health care for children from infancy through the teenage years. In guiding children and teens through their dental growth and development, pediatric dentists often work closely with pediatricians, family physicians, and other dental specialists in providing comprehensive medical and dental care.
Endodontist. Also called pulp specialists, endodontists have undergone specialized training in performing root canal therapy. This particular branch of dentistry is concerned with the morphology, physiology, and pathology of the human dental pulp (the soft tissue between the tooth's outer enamel and the dentin) and periradicular tissues -- including 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 -- including the removal of impacted teeth and reconstructive facial surgery. This dental specialty also includes the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, injuries, and defects involving 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 6-7 year dual training program.
Oral pathologist. Oral pathologists diagnose and manage diseases of the oral and maxillofacial structures using 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 produced by radiant energy used for the diagnosis and management of diseases of the oral and maxillofacial area.
Orthodontist. Orthodontists are specially-trained dentists who 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. A patient often consults an orthodontist after receiving a referral from his/her general dentist.
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, and 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 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 health care team in restoring natural teeth, replacing missing teeth, and/or developing artificial substitutes for damaged oral and maxillofacial tissues. In addition, prosthodontists also have specialized training in the following:
Post oral cancer reconstruction
Jaw joint problems (i.e., temporomandibular joint disorder)
Traumatic injuries of the mouth
Snoring and sleeping disorders