All About Dentistry

Dentists: Doctors of Oral Health

imageMost Americans today enjoy excellent oral health and are keeping their natural teeth throughout their lives. But this is not the case for everyone. Cavities are still the most prevalent chronic disease of childhood. Further, about 100 million Americans did not see a dentist in 2007, even though regular dental examinations and good oral hygiene can prevent most dental disease.

Too many people mistakenly believe that they need to see a dentist only if they are in pain or think something is wrong, but they're missing the bigger picture. A dental visit means being examined by a doctor of oral health capable of diagnosing and treating conditions that can range from routine to extremely complex.

The American Dental Association believes that a better understanding of the intensive academic and clinical education that dentists undergo, their role in delivering oral health care and, most important, the degree to which dental disease is almost entirely preventable is essential to ensuring that more Americans enjoy the lifelong benefits of good oral health. 

From the American Dental Association

Confused about DDS and DMD?

DDS - doctor of dental surgery
DMD - doctor of dental medicine

These both indicate the degree awarded upon graduation from dental school to become a dentist. There is no difference between the two degrees; dentists who have a DMD or DDS have the same education.

Universities have the prerogative to determine what degree is awarded. Both degrees use the same curriculum requirements set by the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation. Generally, three or more years of undergraduate education plus four years of dental school is required to graduate and become a dentist. Additional post-graduate training is required to become a dental specialist, such as an orthodontist, periodontist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon.

Specialty Areas in Dentistry

Approved by the Council on Dental Education and Licensure, American Dental Association

It is recognized there are overlapping responsibilities among the recognized areas of dental practice. However, as a matter of principle, a specialist shall not provide routinely procedures that are beyond the scope of his specialty. (Approved May 1976)

  • Dental Public Health
    Dental public health is the science and art of preventing and controlling dental diseases and promoting dental health through organized community efforts. It is that form of dental practice which serves the community as a patient rather than the individual. It is concerned with the dental health education of the public, with applied dental research, and with the administration of group dental care programs as well as the prevention and control of dental diseases on a community basis.
    (Adopted May 1976)
  • Endodontics
    Endodontics is the branch of dentistry which is concerned with the morphology, physiology and pathology of the human dental pulp and periradicular tissues. Its study and practice encompass the basic and clinical sciences including biology of the normal pulp, the etiology, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases and injuries of the pulp and associated periradicular conditions.
    (Adopted December 1983)
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
    Oral pathology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of pathology that deals with the nature, identification, and management of diseases affecting the oral and maxillofacial regions. It is a science that investigates the causes, processes, and effects of these diseases. The practice of oral pathology includes research and diagnosis of diseases using clinical, radiographic, microscopic, biochemical, or other examinations.
    (Adopted May 1991)
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
    Oral and maxillofacial surgery is the specialty of dentistry which includes the diagnosis, surgical and adjunctive treatment of diseases, injuries and defects involving both the functional and esthetic aspects of the hard and soft tissues of the oral and maxillofacial region.
    (Adopted October 1990)
  • Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
    Orthodontics is that area of dentistry concerned with the supervision, guidance and correction of the growing or mature dentofacial structures, including those conditions that require movement of teeth or correction of malrelationships and malformations of their related structures and the adjustment of relationships between and among teeth and facial bones by the application of forces and/or the stimulation and redirection of functional forces within the craniofacial complex. Major responsibilities of orthodontic practice include the diagnosis, prevention, interception and treatment of all forms of malocclusion of the teeth and associated alterations in their surrounding structures; the design, application and control of functional and corrective appliances; and the guidance of the dentition and its supporting structures to attain and maintain optimum occlusal relations in physiologic and esthetic harmony among facial and cranial structures.
    (Definition Adopted December 1980), (Designation Adopted October 1994)
  • Pediatric Dentistry
    Pediatric Dentistry is an age-defined specialty that provides both primary and comprehensive preventive and therapeutic oral health care for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health care needs.
    (Adopted 1995)
  • Periodontics
    Periodontics is that specialty of dentistry which encompasses 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.
    (Adopted December 1992)
  • Prosthodontics
    Prosthodontics is that branch of dentistry pertaining to the restoration and maintenance of oral functions, comfort, appearance and health of the patient by the restoration of natural teeth and/or the replacement of missing teeth and contiguous oral and maxillofacial tissues with artificial substitutes.
    (Adopted May 1976)
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
    Oral and maxillofacial radiology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of radiology concerned with the production and interpretation of images and data produced by all modalities of radiant energy that are used for the diagnosis and management of diseases, disorders and conditions of the oral and maxillofacial region.
    (Definition Adopted April 2001)

Dental Careers

From the American Dental Association

There are many unique opportunities and benefits within your reach if you choose a dental career. Are you interested in becoming a dentist? In addition to private practice, excellent opportunities exist in teaching and research, careers with government agencies or in industry.

If you are interested in helping to prevent disease while assisting patients to maintain their health, a career as a dental hygienist may be for you. If you have strong communication skills, enjoy working with your hands as well as your mind and want a career with responsibility, considering dental assisting.

Click here for more information about dental careers.  

Oral Health Topics/Dental Terms

From the American Dental Association: Easy to search listing of oral health topics in A-Z order.