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Types of Dentists: Which Specialty is Best for You?

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Updated: February 2, 2024, Reading time: 8 minutes

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If you love helping people improve their general oral health, then a career as a dentist is the ultimate way to pursue this. There are plenty of reasons to become a dentist. This career provides hundreds of challenges and rewards, as well as the chance to help others and make communities become healthier places. 

According to Labor Statistics data, a 4% rise in the demand for dentists can be expected between 2022 and 2032, or roughly 5,100 openings each year. The American Dental Association stated that while dentist-to-patient ratios generally vary, the range is somewhere between 42 and 108 dentists per 100,000 people. 

Learning about the different dental specialties and their qualifications and duties will help you select the training and education for this medical and healthcare career that requires rigorous training

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Required Education for the Different Types of Dentists

Before you start looking for the top dentistry schools in the US, you need to complete a four-year accredited bachelor’s degree program from any of the best colleges for pre-dental degrees. The curriculum will include both major coursework and general education. After you finally make the decision that you want to become a dentist graduate, you will start to major in a science-related field and meet the required coursework for admittance to an accredited dental school. 

Dentistry is a medical science. Some schools offer a pre-dental curriculum, with programs that include classes in organic chemistry, biology, physics, chemistry, physiology, calculus, and human genetics. Dental specializations, in particular, rely heavily on the principles of surgery and surgical procedures

You are also required to take the Dental Admissions Test after earning a bachelor’s degree to guarantee that you are ready for dental school training.

When choosing the top dentistry schools in the US, make sure that the school is fully accredited by the ADA (American Dental Association) Commission on Dental Accreditation. Dental schools last four years and lead to either the DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine) degree. 

The 12 Dental Specialties to Consider

While a general dentist can handle the most basic dental needs, a dental specialist is your go-to person if you wish for more specialized care.

A dental specialty is a special focus within the oral health and dentistry field. The National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Board (NCRDSCB) and the American Dental Association recognize 12 dental specialties. Most of these specialties also require additional training and education after you complete your dental school.

Here are 12 dental specialties you might want to consider. 

Dental Anesthesiology

Dentist anesthesiologists receive several specialized and hospital training in major areas, including internal medicine, pharmacology, pediatric and adult anesthesiology, and emergency medicine. Because of the specific emphasis on helping improve the safety of dental patients, many practicing dentists pursue research focusing on all areas of anesthesiology. 

You can apply for advanced dental education programs in dental anesthesiology after you have earned a DMD or DDS degree. At present, there are 9 CODA (Commission on Dental Accreditation) recognized dental anesthesiology programs in the US that take 36 months to complete. 


Endodontics

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Derived from the two Greek words- “endo,” which means inside, and “odons,” meaning tooth, endodontics is a dental specialty that focuses on the treatment of internal infections of teeth. 

Endodontists study the dental pulp (the tooth’s center part) and how it relates to connective cells and tissues. They also treat injuries or diseases of the tooth roots or dental pulp, including pulp stones, pulpitis, and pulp exposure. Endodontics usually involve root canal procedures as well. AAE, the American Association of Endodontists, oversees this specialty. 


Dental Public Health

Dental public health involves the control and prevention of dental diseases. It also promotes dental health through organized community efforts like dental care and public policy programs or education.

The American Association of Public Health Dentistry, or AAPHD, recognizes this dental specialty.


Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology

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Oral and maxillofacial radiologists have advanced studies and experience in radiation physics, safety and hygiene, and biology, which allows them to take and interpret digital images. This is also the same technique used in diagnosing and treating oral-facial diseases and conditions. 

Training in this dental specialty runs between 24 and 36 months, depending on the degree or certificate offered. Some of the top dental schools in California, including the UCLA School of Dentistry, offer this specialization. 

This specialty is recognized by the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology (AAOMR).


Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

The American Association of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons greenlights dental specialists to perform surgeries for diseases, defects, and injuries affecting the soft and hard tissues of the oral and maxillofacial region. This often includes issues like tumors, lesions, infections, and cysts.

They are also qualified to treat other conditions related to the neck and head area, including impacted wisdom teeth, misaligned jaws, oral reconstructive surgery, dental implants, as well as cancers of the head and neck.

To be a certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon, you must complete an undergraduate degree, a dental program, plus a two or three-year residence focusing on surgical techniques. 


Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology

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A popular pathology and dentistry specialization, Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology is about identifying and managing diseases in the oral and maxillofacial regions. It is the study that explores the causes, processes, and effects of these diseases using microscopic, radiographic, biochemical, or other examinations.

To become a professional in this field, you need to obtain an advanced education that you can complete in 37 months (average). 


Oral Medicine

Oral medicine is a dentistry discipline involving medically complex oral health issues. This includes the management and diagnosis of medical problems affecting the oral and maxillofacial region. 

Oral medicine is basically a non-surgical dental specialty with procedures that are limited to small incisions, diagnostic biopsies, therapeutic injections, as well as other minor surgical interventions. In most cases, these conditions are medically managed using systemic and topical medications.

The American Academy of Oral Medicine recognizes this dental specialty. 


Prosthodontics

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Prosthodontics is a dentistry specialty that is also called prosthetic dentistry or dental prosthetics. This specialty generally deals with the implantation and development of tooth substitutes for missing, injured, or diseased teeth. 

The types of conditions and diseases that a prosthodontist can manage include:


Periodontics

Periodontics is a dentistry specialization that concentrates on the gums. This field of specialization deals with the supporting structures surrounding the teeth, collectively known as the periodontium. The word ‘periodontics’ is derived from the Greek words “peri,” which means around, and “odons,” which means tooth.

The periodontal structures include:

Common treatments include scaling and root planing procedures that remove plaque buildup on the gums, as well as deep cleaning. Periodontists also get rid of damaged gum tissues and place or repair dental implants. This specialization of dentistry is recognized by the American Academy of Periodontology.


Pediatric Dentistry

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Also called pedodontics, pediatric dentistry is a dentistry specialization that deals with the examination and study of dental and oral health in children. Especially among children, dental procedures are perceived as painful and intimidating experiences that they wish to avoid. 

However, children must have their milk teeth regularly checked by pediatric dentists for evidence of tooth decay. Some of the conditions that need pediatric dentists include:


Orthodontics/Dentofacial Orthopedics

A popular dental specialty, Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics involve the fixing of misaligned teeth or jaws. This involves correcting underbites, overbites, teeth gaps, and other abnormalities so the longevity and function of the teeth may improve.

Orthodontists also help improve the physical appearance of the patient’s teeth by straightening or repositioning them. Treatments involve wires, retainers, braces, and other corrective appliances. 

This dental specialty is recognized by the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). 


Orofacial Pain

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This is a newly recognized dental education specialty involving the diagnosis, treatment, and management of pain disorders of the mouth, jaw, head, neck, and face. This is dedicated to the understanding of the underlying pathophysiology, treatment and prevention, and etiology of these disorders.

Orofacial pain-associated disorders include TMJ (temporomandibular muscle and joint) disorders, neurovascular and neuropathic pain disorders, jaw movement disorders, sleep disorders, and headaches. Orofacial pain specialists provide personalized treatment after they assess their patients.

After they create a plan, they will work on eliminating discomfort and fixing the underlying problem. 

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