Oral Health and Dental Specialists

What is a general dentist (DDS or DMD)?

Male dentist standing and smiling in front of an exam chair.

Upon 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 the same education and have completed the same curriculum requirements set by the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation. The difference is wording. 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 is 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.

Specialized areas of dentistry

Additional postgraduate training is required to become a dental specialist. A patient often consults with a dental specialist after referral from his or her general dentist. Dental and oral health specialists include the following:

  • Pediatric dentist. A pediatric dentist specializes in oral healthcare for children from infancy through the teen years. In guiding children and teens through their dental growth and development, pediatric dentists often work closely with pediatricians, family healthcare providers, and other dental specialists in comprehensive medical and dental care.

  • Endodontist. 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 periradicular tissues. 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 who treat a wide variety of dental problems. This includes the removal of impacted teeth and reconstructive facial surgery. This dental specialty also diagnoses and treats diseases, injuries, and defects involving 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 pathologist. Oral pathologists diagnose and manage diseases of the mouth and jaw using clinical, microscopic, radiographic and other means.

  • Public health dentist. Public health 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 radiologist. Oral radiologists produce and interpret images produced by radiant energy used for the diagnosis and management of diseases of the mouth and jaw.

  • Orthodontist. Orthodontists 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, and the maintenance of the health, function, and esthetics of these structures and tissues.

  • Prosthodontist. Prosthodontists have 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 healthcare team in restoring natural teeth, replacing missing teeth, or developing artificial substitutes for damaged mouth and jaw tissues. In addition, prosthodontists 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