At some point, a dentist may need to determine their area of specialty, if they’ll have one. The following is a comprehensive breakdown of the dental specialties currently recognized by the National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards (NCRDSCB). Each of these represents a specialty within which a dentist can legally practice in the United States.
Please note: At the time of publication, oral medicine and orofacial are under consideration to be added to this list.
Organization: American Dental Society of Anesthesiology
Specialty Description: The primary reason dental anesthesia is needed is to eliminate or reduce pain during regular dental procedures. Some subsets of the specialty also offer a form of sedation dentistry that is implemented during routine dental care in people who are highly fearful of dental care and who subsequently put off having needed dental procedures and/or cleanings. While dental anesthesiology can be utilized in a dental practice, it might also appear in other settings. In summation, dental anesthesiology as a specialty helps patients manage pain and anxiety throughout surgical, diagnostic and routine dental procedures.
Practicing Specialists: Currently, there are 5,000 members of the ADSA, which is the governing organization over dental anesthesiology. All members must be dentists who have completed a full postdoctoral training in dental anesthesiology, lasting at least three years.
Unique Training: There are nine recognized dental anesthesiology programs in the United States. They last 36 months and are completed after earning a D.M.D or D.D.S.
Dental Public Health
Organization: American Association of Public Health Dentistry
Specialty Description: Dental Public Health (DPH) is a specialty of dentistry that works to provide expertise and leadership to oversee policy development, oral health surveillance, health promotion and to combat community-based disease. It differs from most other dental specialties because it is not primarily clinical in nature. In fact, it often takes place in government offices to oversee policy development and community-based programs.
Public dentistry focuses on the populations and issues relating to communities instead of treating patients on a one-on-one basis. Many describe this field as “the science and art of preventing and controlling disease and promoting dental health through organized community efforts.” (1.)
Unique Training: A D.D.S. or a D.M.D is required. Then, a CODA-accredited advanced education program in public health dentistry along with meeting certain specific requirements for various programs is required to become a dentist of public health.
Organization: American Association of Endodontists
Specialty Description: According to the AAE, endodontists serve to save teeth through various methods, such as root canals. It is a dental specialty that involves the tissues surrounding the roots of a tooth and the dental pulp. Its name is derived from the Greek word “Endo” which translates to “inside.” The rest of the name, “odont” is Greek for “tooth,” hence the word endodontics means “inside the tooth”. Endodontists perform a number of procedures that are often complex in nature, designed to save teeth when possible after injury or infection. Root canals are part of it, but they also perform other specialty procedures.
Practicing Specialists: There are currently 4,341 practicing endodontists in America. (2)
Unique Training: Endodontists must complete at least two years of postgraduate training in advanced endodontics after graduating from dental school.
Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
Organization: American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
Specialty Description: This specialty within the dentistry field deals with the diagnosis and management of various diseases affecting the maxillofacial and oral regions. This science-focused specialty is investigative in nature, looking for a cause and effect of various detrimental diseases. It includes a great deal of research using radiographic, clinical, microscopic and biochemical examinations, along with evaluating the psychological and social history of a patient to understand the disease. Oral and maxillofacial pathology also involves investigating both the hard and soft tissues of the mouth, to diagnose various diseases in the face, jaws, mouth, head and neck.
Unique Training: Postgraduate specialty training in oral and maxillofacial pathology.
Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
Organization: American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
Specialty Description: This division of dentistry deals with maxillofacial radiology, which includes both the production and the interpretation of various radiographic images. This can include MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds, CBCT and more that are used to diagnose any diseases, conditions and/or disorders of the jaws, face or mouth areas.
Unique Training: All oral and maxillofacial radiologists must complete a residency from an accredited program as recognized by the American Dental Association.
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
Organization: American Association of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons
Specialty Description: Oral and maxillofacial surgeons diagnose and treat a wide range of diseases that affect the jaw, face, neck and head region. This discipline can include the treatment and study of both the hard and soft tissues. Specialists primarily perform tooth extractions including wisdom teeth removal, correct misaligned jaws, remove cysts in the mouth or jaws, tumors in the mouth or jaws and dental implant procedures. This is considered highly-specialized surgery and is recognized by the American College of Surgeons.
Practicing Specialists: There are some 9,000 oral and maxillofacial surgeons recognized by the American Association of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons.
Unique Training: Becoming an oral or maxillofacial surgeon requires at least four to six years of residency after completion of dental school. In most cases, after completion of surgical training, it is necessary to take final specialty examinations. The certifying body for this specialty is the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.
Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
Organization: American Association of Orthodontists
Specialty Description: This specialty within the dental field focuses on the alignment of the teeth as well as the dental arches, or the mandible and maxilla. It also includes the diagnostic interception, prevention and correction of malocclusions and other abnormalities within either the mature or developing orofacial structures.
Although this specialty is often thought of as merely cosmetic correction for misaligned teeth or to fix a bite that’s not lined up just right, the practice of orthodontia is directly related to the effectiveness of the bite and how the teeth line up, allowing patients to clean and care for their teeth properly. Therefore, this specialty can effectively prevent the development of various types of dental issues, such as tooth decay, difficulty chewing and gum disease by properly aligning the teeth and/or jaw. This is often completed through the use of braces that are regularly adjusted to perpetuate the desired tooth movement.
Practicing Specialists: There are 8,263 practicing orthodontists in America. (3)
Unique Training: Most orthodontic advanced learning programs take between 24 and 36 months to complete. There are around 73 programs currently available in the United States.
Organization: American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
Specialty Description: Pediatric dentistry specializes in the oral health of children from infancy throughout the teen years. They also sometimes provide care to those with special oral care needs. Pediatric dentists are experienced in the care of a child’s teeth and gums, throughout various stages of childhood. Baby teeth may begin coming in within six months of a child’s life. By age six or seven, those teeth may begin to fall out and be replaced by their adult counterparts.
Pediatric dentists provide the first experience many have with oral health, and they understand the conditions that primarily affect children as they are growing. Proper dental care even early in life is vital to creating a habit of oral health. Without this, children are susceptible to oral disease and tooth decay that can not only impact their baby teeth but affect their subsequent adult teeth as well, leading to a lifetime of dental complications.
Practicing Specialists: There are currently over 10,000 members of the American Academy for Pediatric Dentistry.
Unique Training: Two years of post-dental school residency training in the oral health of infants, children, teens and those with special needs is required to become a pediatric dentist.
Organization: American Academy of Periodontology
Specialty Description: This dental specialty addresses the prevention and diagnosis of periodontal diseases along with dental implant placement. Periodontists are also experts in the treatment of oral inflammation.
Practicing Specialists: There are 8,200 recognized members of the American Academy of Periodontology.
Unique Training: Three additional years of specialized training in periodontics after dental school.
Organization: American College of Prosthodontists
Specialty Description: This dental specialty addresses issues pertaining to the rehabilitation, treatment, diagnosis and maintenance of oral comfort, appearance, function and health of patients with missing maxillofacial tissues and/or missing or deficient teeth. A prosthodontist is extensively trained in dental cosmetics, dentures, implants, crowns, the treatment of temporomandibular disorders and more.
Unique Training: Three years of post-graduate training in a CODA-accredited prosthodontic graduate program.
Starting Your Career after Dental School
Choosing your dental specialty is just one choice you may have to make as you complete dental school and grow into your career.
To learn more about the other challenges, decisions, and opportunities you may encounter, download our complimentary ebook, The Post-Dental School Survival Guide.
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