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"Why Can't You Do All My Treatment, Doc?": General Dentists and Dental Specialties


A common question is “what do all those initials after doctor’s names mean?” You may have noticed that some dentists have D.M.D. after their name and others have D.D.S. and wondered what the difference is. The answer is, not much, it just depends on what school your dentist attended. Some schools offer the Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.) degree and others offer the Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) degree. Today the training is pretty much the same no matter which school your dentist attended.  In the past, it was more common to see the D.D.S. degree in this area because both Ohio dental schools awarded that degree. A few years ago, Case Western chose to change their degree to a D.M.D., so it is likely you will see the D.M.D. degree more often in the future. The different degrees appear to have come about when a group broke from the traditional viewing of the mouth as a separate entity (with studies focusing mainly on the head and neck) to the view that the mouth is part of the body and conditions affecting the body can affect the mouth (so studies should focus on the entire body with emphasis on the head and neck regions).


General Dentists (who also used to be called Family Dentists) are trained in many different dental treatments. Each dentist has to decide what his or her comfort level is for performing specific ranges of procedures. If your dental treatment is more complex than what your dentist is comfortable with, she or he may refer you to a Dental Specialist. Your general dentist wants you to have the best care, and sometimes the best option is to see a dental specialist for part of your treatment.


All dentists and dental specialists start out with general dentist training. Dental specialists choose to continue their training beyond dental school to focus on a specific aspect of dentistry. Specialty training programs are a minimum of two (2) years of additional study and award an advanced degree such as an M.S. (Master of Science) degree. There are 9 specialties recognized by the American Dental Association. The six most common referrals are to:


  • Endodontists who perform root canals and other surgical procedures related to the roots and nerves of your teeth.
  • Periodontists who treat the structures around your teeth: gums and bone.
  • Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons who remove teeth, cysts, and other pathologies and who perform jaw surgeries.
  • Orthodontists who use braces and other appliances to move your teeth and correct your bite.
  • Prosthodontists who do full mouth dental treatments and work with more difficult cases of needing to restore missing teeth or deficient oral tissues.
  • Pediatric Dentists (sometimes called Pedodontists) who care for children and teens.


You’ll notice that there are not specialties for Cosmetic Dentistry, Implants or TMJ.


The other three dental specialties are ones you are less likely to encounter. They are Dental Public Health (working to promote and improve dental health within an entire community), Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology (identifying and managing diseases of the oral cavity), and Oral & Maxillofacial Radiology (producing and interpreting images related to the oral cavity and its diseases). Chances are, if you’re seeing one of the last two, you have a quite complex or rare condition.


The most important thing to remember is that your dentist wants you to have the best outcome possible. While it is nice to only have to go to one location for your dental needs, sometimes in order to get the best result, a dental specialist is the best option for you.


If you have a dental concern and do not have a dentist, we invite you to become part of my dental practice. Please call us at 440-960-1940 or contact us through my website at www.drjrobb.com We’re saving a seat for you!


*Note: Information in this article is not intended to replace the clinical judgment of your healthcare professionals.