A dentist, also known as a dental surgeon, is a health care practitioner who specializes in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases and conditions of the oral cavity. The dentist’s supporting team aids in providing oral health services. The dental team includes dental assistants, dental hygienists, dental technicians, and in some states, dental therapists.
All dentists in the U.S. must graduate from high school and complete required courses such as general biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and statistics/calculus. While nearly all dental schools require at least a bachelors degree (4 years), a select few may consider admitting exceptional students after only 3 years of college. Although this is very rare. To apply, students must take the Dental Admissions Test. Admission to dental school is competitive, and is generally determined based on factors such as GPA, DAT scores, research, recommendation letters, and extracurricular activities. To become a licensed dentist, one must then complete an accredited dental school curriculum and successfully master all clinical competencies and national board exams. Most dental school curricula require four years of training, however, some states require dentists to complete a post graduate residency program as well (ex: New York). In the U.S., a newly graduated dentist is then awarded the DDS, Doctor of Dental Surgery, degree or the DMD, Doctor of Dental Medicine, degree depending on the dental school attended. The degrees are equivalent. A newly graduated dentist can then pursue further specialty residency training ranging from 2 to 6 years in one of the recognized specialties. Additionally, dentists are required to participate in continuing education where they attend lectures to learn of recent developments, practice new methods, and earn continuing education hours throughout their career.
By nature of their general training, a licensed dentist can carry out most dental treatments such as restorative (dental restorations, crowns, bridges), orthodontics (braces), prosthodontic (dentures, crown/bridge), endodontic (root canal) therapy, periodontal (gum) therapy, and oral surgery (extraction of teeth), as well as performing examinations, taking radiographs (x-rays) and diagnosis. Additionally, dentists can further engage in oral surgery procedures such as dental implant placement. Dentists can also prescribe medications such as antibiotics, fluorides, pain killers, local anesthetics, sedatives/hypnotics and any other medication that serve in the treatment of the various conditions that arise in the head and neck.
Dentists need to take additional qualifications or training to carry out more complex procedures such as General anesthesia, oral and maxillofacial surgery, and implants. While many oral diseases are unique and self-limiting, poor conditions in the oral cavity can lead to poor general health and vice versa. Conditions in the oral cavity may be indicative of systemic diseases such as osteoporosis, diabetes, AIDS, different blood diseases(including malignancies and lymphona) etc.
- Dental public health – The study of dental epidemiology and social health policies.
- Endodontics – Root canal therapy and study of diseases of the dental pulp.
- Oral and maxillofacial pathology – The study, diagnosis, and sometimes the treatment of oral and maxillofacial related diseases.
- Oral and maxillofacial radiology – The study and radiologic interpretation of oral and maxillofacial diseases.
- Oral and maxillofacial surgery – Extractions, implants, and MaxilloFacial surgery which also includes correction of congenital facial deformities.
- Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopaedics – The straightening of teeth and modification of midface and mandibular growth.
- Periodontology (periodontics) – Study and treatment of diseases of the gums (non-surgical and surgical) as well as placement and maintenance of dental implants
- Pediatric dentistry (formerly pedodontics) – Dentistry for children
- Prosthodontics – Dentures, bridges and the restoration of implants. Some prosthodontists further their training in “oral and maxillofacial prosthodontics”, which is the discipline concerned with the replacement of missing facial structures, such as ears, eyes, noses, etc.
- Specialists in these fields are designated “registrable” (in the United States, “board eligible”) and warrant exclusive titles such as orthodontist, oral and maxillofacial surgeon, endodontist, pediatric dentist, periodontist, or prosthodontist upon satisfying certain local accreditation requirements (U.S., “Board Certified”).