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All About Dental Specialties: A Guide

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Like physicians, dentists may practice general dentistry or they may specialize. All dental specialists begin with the basic training to become a dentist; in order to become specialized, they must complete an additional period of training. They must also pass an exam to become certified in the specialty.


Requirements for Recognized Dental Specialties

The American Dental Association has set specific standards for recognized dental specialties. First, the specialty must have a sponsoring board. The specialty must be a clearly distinct and well-defined field that requires specialized training. It must also be different enough from other recognized specialties that it cannot be incorporated into one of them. A minimum of two years of specialty training is required and the sponsoring organization must develop, approve and periodically review the training requirements.


The Recognized Specialties

With one exception, all dental specialties are hands-on clinical specialties primarily devoted to direct patient care. The exception is dental public health, which includes the study of dental epidemiology (causes of disease) and social health policies. The remaining specialties are:
~ Endodontics – dentists in this specialty perform root canal therapy and study diseases of the root pulp.
~ Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology – this specialty focuses on the study and diagnosis of oral and maxillofacial diseases; it may also include patient treatment. Official title: endodontist.
~ Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology – radiologic interpretation of oral and maxillofacial conditions and diseases. Official title: oral and maxillofacial radiologist.
~ Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery – a dentist in this specialty performs facial surgery, extractions and implants. Official title: oral and maxillofacial surgeon.
~ Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics – the use of braces and other devices to straighten teeth and change growth of the jawbone. Official title: orthodontist.
~ Pediatric Dentistry – dentists who specialize in the care of children. Official title: pediatric dentist.
~ Periodontics or Periodontology – periodontists also place implants and treat the tissues that surround and support the teeth. Official title: periodontist.
~ Prosthodontics – dentists who specialize in dental restorations with dentures, bridges and implants. Official title: prosthodontist.


Other Specialty Areas

In addition to the nine dental specialties recognized in the U.S. dentists may develop significant expertise in certain areas of general dentistry, like cosmetic dentistry, dental implants or temporal mandibular joint therapy. Although it is not a recognized dental specialty, dentists may also become certified in dental sleep medicine through the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine. Dental anesthesiology may soon be a recognized specialty. Forensic dentistry or odontology – the accumulation and use of dental evidence in legal cases – is another unrecognized specialty. Special needs dentistry, for those who have disabilities, is recognized in the United Kingdom but not in the U.S. Some dentists also have expertise in geriatric dentistry – the care of older adults.

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