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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.

Specialized areas of dentistry

More postgraduate training is needed to become a dental specialist. You may be referred to a dental specialist by your general dentist. Dental and oral health specialists 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 pathologist. Oral 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 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.

  • 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 or temporomandibular joint disorder)

    • Traumatic injuries of the mouth

    • Snoring and sleeping disorders

Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Kapner MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
© 2000-2020 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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