Oral Health and Dental Specialists
What is a general dentist (DDS or DMD)?
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.
Specialized areas of dentistry:
Additional post-graduate training is required to become a dental specialist. Dental/oral health specialists include the following:
- pediatric dentist
Pediatric dentistry is an age-defined specialty in the field of dentistry. It provides both primary and comprehensive preventive and therapeutic oral health care for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special healthcare needs. Pediatric dentists work closely with pediatricians and other medical and dental specialists offering services in hospital operating rooms, emergency rooms and clinics.
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 orthopaedic 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.
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 family dentist.
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.
Prosthodontists are dental specialists who have undergone additional training and certification in the restoration and replacement of broken teeth with crowns, bridges, 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)
- registered dental assistants
Registered dental assistants have training in assisting the dentist at chair side. They monitor all sterilization and OSHA requirements within the office or clinical setting. They are licensed to take and process x-rays and perform numerous other responsibilities in oral healthcare.
- registered dental hygienists
Registered dental hygienists are licensed oral healthcare professionals whose preventive services limit the extent of cavities and periodontal (gum) disease. They provide many services including cleaning teeth, taking x-rays, providing fluoride treatments, applying sealants, examining the condition of the mouth, teeth and gums, and educating patients to maintain optimal oral health. They are especially knowledgeable about the preventive aspects of oral healthcare and view prevention as their central focus.
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