Dental Degrees and Distinctions: Making Sense of Alphabet Soup
DMD vs. DDS
If you want to ask a person a trick question, ask what the difference is between a DDS and DMD degree. While the letters are different, the meaning behind the degree is the same. Standing for Doctor of Dental Surgery and Doctor of Dental Medicine, the degree awarded depends on what the university a dental student attends offers. Both degrees signify that a dentist has completed at least three years of undergraduate education, attended four years of dental school and passed the state licensing board requirements. Once each of these milestones has been accomplished, a dentist can begin his or her medical practice or join an existing practice.
Once a dentist finishes dental school, he can opt for general practice or pursue advanced training in a medical specialty. An estimated one in five dentists practices in a dental specialty, according to the American Dental Association. A wide variety of dental specialties are out there, ranging from pediatric dentists that care for infants through adolescents, to orthodontists, who specialize in correcting tooth alignment difficulties. Dentists with these specialties may have letters such as MDS (Master of Dental Surgery), MS/M.Sc. (Master of Science) or MSD (Master of Science in Dentistry) after their names, all of which signal additional time spent specializing in a particular area.
“I enjoy the orthodontic specialty because you are able to see the patient during their childhood, follow and treat them during their adolescence, then see the difference that you have made after removing the braces,” says Kenneth C. Dyer, DDS, MDS, an orthodontist in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Other dental specialties include oral pathologists, who diagnose and treat tumors of the head and neck, and endodontists who address structural issues to the teeth, such as a root canal to correct extensive tooth decay.
While you’d imagine a dentist would have to be disciplined to attend the seven-plus years of school required to complete the dental specialty, the dental disciplines refers to more than a dentist’s dedication. A discipline is a subset of dental care that a dentist is particularly interested in caring for, but doesn’t necessarily require extra schooling or training. This includes sports dentistry, where a dentist prevents dental injuries to athletes and treats the athletic injuries to the mouth as well. Another dental discipline is that of the cosmetic dentist. As advances in whitening treatments and restorative measures, such as veneers, take place, cosmetic dentists have a variety of offerings in their treatment arsenal to help you achieve a more beautiful smile.
Fellows and Masters
The Academy of General Dentistry offers both a Fellow and Master’s designation, which signify a dentist has undergone specialized training and continuing education to better care for your teeth. If you see a FAGD after a dentist’s name, this stands for Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry, which means the dentist has taken and passed at least 500 hours of continuing education credits and has passed an additional certification examination. The MAGD or Master of the Academy of General Dentistry requires at least 1,100 hours completed in continuing education credits, 600 of which must be in a specialized discipline.