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Oral Health and Dental Specialists

What is a general dentist (DDS or DMD)?

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

  • DDS. Doctor of dental surgery

  • DMD. Doctor of dental medicine

There is no difference between the degrees. Both dentists have the same education. They completed the same curriculum requirements. Some schools award a DMD degree. Others award a DDS degree. To be a general dentist typically requires 3 or more years of undergraduate college education plus 4 years of dental school.

Dentist talking to woman in exam chair.

Specialized areas of dentistry

More postgraduate training is needed to become a dental specialist. Specialists work in areas where advanced knowledge, skills, and training are needed. Each specialty is unique, but their goal is the same: to maintain or restore oral health. You may be referred to a dental specialist by your general dentist to make sure that your special dental needs are met with the most advanced treatment possible. The National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties currently has 12 dental specialties. These include:

  • Pediatric dentist. A pediatric dentist focuses on the oral healthcare of children, from babies through teens. Pediatric dentists often work closely with pediatricians, family healthcare providers, and other dental specialists.

  • Endodontist. These providers have had specialized training in root canal therapy. They focus on the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of dental pulp and tooth nerve conditions. Dental pulp is the soft tissue on the inside of the tooth.

  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeon. These specialists are orthopedic facial surgeons. They treat many different dental problems. This includes removing impacted teeth and doing reconstructive facial surgery. These providers also diagnose and treat diseases, injuries, and defects of the hard and soft tissues of the mouth and jaw.

  • Oral and maxillofacial pathologist. Oral and maxillofacial pathologists diagnose and manage diseases of the mouth and jaw. They use clinical, microscopic, imaging, and other methods.

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

  • Oral and maxillofacial radiologist. These providers take and interpret X-ray images. They diagnose and manage diseases of the mouth and jaw area.

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

  • Periodontist. Periodontists are responsible for the care and prevention of gum-related diseases, guided bone regeneration, and dental implants. They focus on preventing, diagnosing, and treating diseases of the supporting and nearby tissues of the teeth or their substitutes. This includes maintaining the health, function, and look of these structures and tissues.

  • Orofacial pain specialist. These providers are responsible for the diagnosis, management, and treatment of pain disorders of the jaw, mouth, face, neck, and head. They focus on using evidence-based understanding of pain disorders and integrating interdisciplinary patient care.

  • Oral medicine specialist. Oral medicine specialists provide oral health treatment for medically complex people. They are responsible for the diagnosis and management of medically related diseases that affect the oral and maxillofacial region. People they may treat include those dealing with mouth ulcers, growths, cancers, infections and allergies; disorders related to the salivary glands; temporomandibular (TMJ) disorders; taste and smell disorders; and oral symptoms of infectious diseases.

  • Dental anesthesiologist. These providers manage pain, anxiety, and patient health throughout dental, oral, and maxillofacial surgery or diagnostic procedures. They promote safety and access to care for all patients.

  • Prosthodontist. These dental specialists have had additional training and certification in restoring and replacing broken or missing teeth. They do this with crowns, bridges, implants, or dentures. These providers also specialize 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 to restore natural teeth, replace missing teeth, or make synthetic substitutes for damaged mouth and jaw tissues. They may also have specialized training in:

    • Reconstruction after oral cancer

    • Jaw joint problems, such as TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder)

    • Traumatic injuries of the mouth

    • Snoring and sleeping disorders

Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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