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Dental Degrees and Specialties


Deciphering Dental Credentials

Dental specialists have advanced training.

Abbreviations like A.A.C.D. or F.A.G.D. after a dentist's name may be confusing. What does that mean to you, as a patient? Should you choose a dentist with a D.M.D., or a D.D.S.? Are dentists with M.A.G.D. after their names superior to those without it? Savvy consumers should educate themselves when establishing long term relationships, especially with health care providers. Here's a helpful who's who in dentistry...

D.D.S. - Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Science. This is a four-year dental degree that is required before a dentist can be licensed to practice in the United States. Dentists with training in other countries must complete approximately two years of additional coursework in the U.S. before they are eligible for licensing here.

D.M.D. - Doctor of Medical Dentistry. There is no difference between a D.M.D. and a D.D.S. degree. The American Dental Association states that the credentials are identical; dental students at the University of Pittsburgh, Tufts, the University of Oregon Health Sciences Center and the University of Louisville earn D.M.D. degrees. All other schools confer D.D.S.

F.A.G.D.  - Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry. General dentists do not specialize in any one facet of dentistry. According to the A.G.D., an F.A.G.D. "has been recognized by other dentists as a leader who is committed to quality patient care through continuing dental education." An F.A.G.D. dentist must earn a minimum of 500 approved continuing dental education credits; pass a comprehensive 400-question examination; and must also be an Academy of General Dentistry member for five continuous years.

M.A.G.D. - Master of the Academy of General Dentistry. To achieve status as a Master, A.G.D. members must first be Fellows in the Academy of General Dentistry. They then must earn an additional 600 approved continuing education credits -- of which 400 hours are hands-on courses. A Master of the Academy of General Dentistry has taken a total of 1,100 hours of continuing education, with courses in 16 disciplines in dentistry, such as periodontics, orthodontics and dental implants.

To remain a member of the A.G.D., a dentist must complete at least 75 hours of continuing education every three years.

R.D.H. - A valuable member of the dental team, a registered dental hygienist is a college graduate of an accredited dental hygiene program. She is licensed in most states to clean teeth, administer local anesthesia and nitrous oxide, remove subgingival (below the gum) calculus, apply fluoride and provide patient education. The R.D.H. is also required to maintain continuing education units.

Dental Specialists

To be a legitimate "specialist" within a particular discipline in dentistry, the American Dental Association requires that the dentist undergo at least two years of advanced training, accredited by the ADA Council on Dental Education. There are nine specialties recognized by the American Dental association.

  • Endodontist - specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of the root pulp and related structures of the teeth, such as the root canal.
  • Oral and maxillofacial radiologists - evaluates and diagnoses diseases, anomalies, and injuries of the jaw and facial bones.
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeons - performs surgical tooth extractions, and diagnoses and surgically treats diseases, injuries and defects of the mouth, jaw and face.
  • Oral pathologists - diagnoses tumors and other diseases and injuries of the head and neck.
  • Orthodontists - diagnoses and corrects tooth alignment and facial deformities.
  • Pediatric dentists - provides dental care for infants, children, adolescents and sometimes special needs patients.
  • Periodontists - diagnoses and treats diseases of the gums and related structures in the mouth.
  • Prosthodontists - performs diagnosis and treatment involving the replacement of missing teeth.
  • Public health dentists - prevents and controls dental disease, and performs public education services related to the promotion of oral health and hygiene.

Dental Disciplines

If you would like a specialist to treat you, be sure to ask if he has advanced training or is board certified in that dental specialty. Some dentists claim to be specialists, when they merely limit their practice (or wish to focus) on a certain aspect of their practice. They may provide excellent dental care, but not have the advanced training necessary to earn the "specialist" designation.

Dental disciplines or practice concentrations include:

  • Cosmetic Dentistry - Cosmetic dentistry is a dental discipline that focuses primarily on dental restoration procedures that enhance the appearance of patients' smiles. Treatments include bleaching, enamel recontouring and adhesive dentistry, such as porcelain veneers, inlays, onlays and dental crowns.
  • Dental Hypnosis - Dental hypnosis comprises relaxation techniques that produce a mild to profound state of altered consciousness. Dental anxiety is reduced so that dental treatment may be performed comfortably on apprehensive patients.
  • Forensic Dentistry - Although not a recognized specialty, the forensic dentist focuses on legal and judicial issues, such as gathering evidence for body identification or court cases.
  • Implant Dentistry - Implant dentistry describes dental surgical procedures that embed supportive structures, which integrate into the upper or lower jawbones. Dental implants may then be utilized to support fixed or removable appliances for the restoration of missing teeth.
  • Sleep Apnea & Snoring - Sleep apnea is a condition that causes a person to periodically stop breathing during sleep. Although it affects millions, it is often unrecognized despite potentially serious consequences. Dentists may fabricate appliances to maintain an open airway while asleep to address sleep apnea and snoring disorders.
  • Sports Dentistry - The practice of sports dentistry entails the prevention and treatment of oral and maxillofacial athletic injuries and related diseases. It encourages the dissemination of information to the public on dental injuries incurred in athletic activities.
  • Temporomandibular Joint Disorders - TMD/TMJ treatment is a dental discipline that focuses on the management of temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD). The condition is commonly a result of a malocclusion (bite problems) and bruxism (the grinding or gnashing teeth during sleep).

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