Dentistry involves the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide variety of conditions, disorders and diseases affecting the teeth, gums and maxillofacial (associated with the jaw and face) region of the body.
General dentists provide services related to the general maintenance of oral hygiene and tooth health.
Ideally, dentistry is preventative. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that you visit your dentist regularly – at least once every six months – to ensure proper oral hygiene and functionality. Regular checkups and oral health maintenance prevent the development of serious dental problems that can require costly treatment. If you remain vigilant and visit your dentist regularly, you can enjoy exceptional dental health.
After graduating from an undergraduate program (typically with a BS or BA degree), prospective dental students must attend an additional four or more years of schooling at an accredited dental school. Fifty-six such colleges are located in the United States. Dentists receive a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. DDS and DMD are different titles for the same education and degree.
Dentistry Experience and Training
After completing dental school, prospective dentists must pass a two-part written national board examination and a written and practical state or regional board examination. After passing these exams, a dentist is given a license to practice. Dentists are licensed on a state-by-state basis, meaning that a dentist in California is licensed to practice only in that state, although there are occasional exceptions to this rule.
Following dental school, the majority of dentists choose to move immediately into practice. Others, however, opt to pursue postgraduate training to become a specialty dentist. Nine specialty fields of dentistry are recognized by the American Dental Association:
- Dental Public Health
- Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology
- Oral & Maxillofacial Radiology
- Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery
- Pedodontics (Pediatric Dentistry)
The amount of additional work and the duration of training depends on the type of dental specialty that a dentist pursues. For example, an endodontist requires an additional two or three years of training, while an oral and maxillofacial surgeon requires an additional four to six years.
The General Dentist
Your general dentist will work with you to develop a customized dental hygiene plan that incorporates dental examination, tooth cleaning, possible tooth scaling, X-ray and use of other diagnostic equipment to prevent, uncover or treat problems as early as possible.
Your dentist may incorporate a variety of restorative procedures in the development of a comprehensive treatment plan that will help prevent decay or disease of the teeth, mouth, gums and tongue. General dentists also use restorative dentistry procedures to repair the effects of tooth decay, trauma, defect or disease in these areas of the mouth.
Although typically associated with preventive and restorative dentistry, many pursue additional training in order to provide cosmetic services such as teeth whitening and porcelain veneers.