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General Dentistry

Medically Reviewed by: Ivan F. Stein, DDS

routine tooth cleaning by dentist

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.

Dentistry Education

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. Around 56 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
  • Endodontics
  • Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology
  • Oral & Maxillofacial Radiology
  • Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Orthodontics
  • Pedodontics (Pediatric Dentistry)
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics

female dental patient smiling with dentist and dental assistant

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, teeth 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 dentist’s pursue additional training in order to provide cosmetic services such as teeth whitening and porcelain veneers to enhance one’s smile and instill self-confidence.

[updated May 13, 2019]

About the Reviewer

Dr. Ivan Stein - Northfield Dental GroupIvan F. Stein, DDS, is a recognized innovator in neuromuscular and cosmetic dentistry. He has dedicated two decades of his career to researching and treating functional disorders of the jaw and mouth – including temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) and excessive snoring caused by obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) – as well as full mouth reconstruction.

Dr. Stein earned his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree at prestigious Georgetown University Dental School. He has personally developed a number of successful oral appliances for use in neuromuscular dentistry, including Oravan OSA, an oral appliance for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. Dr. Stein was named a Top Dentist in NJ Monthly Magazine and has been invited to appear on ABC and CNBC to discuss dentistry as an art, as well as the safety of dental materials. He is in private practice at Northfield Dental Group, serving patients in and around West Orange, Short Hills and Livingston, New Jersey.