A career in dentistry requires years of preparation before practicing, including specialized education and clinical training. Working as a dentist can offer the chance for high salaries and personal fulfillment.
Dentists can also specialize in a specific area of dentistry to provide in-depth care to patients who need special attention. In this article, we explore the 12 specializations for dentistry outlined by the American Dental Association and review the education requirements for becoming a dentist.
Related: How To Become a Dentist
ADA specializations for dentists
Dentists can specialize in 12 different categories of practice as stated by the ADA. Here are some facts about each ADA specialization:
Dental public health
Dentists who specialize in dental public health work to prevent and control the spread of diseases. They might also organize community activities that promote ongoing dental health. Dentists working in public health focus on educating the public about dental health practices rather than one individual patient at a time.
Related: Top 8 Jobs in the Dental Field
Dentists who specialize in endodontics focus on the characteristics of human dental pulp and periradicular tissues. They might research morphology, physiology and pathology of these areas and pay attention to conditions that affect them, like disease and injury. Endodontic dentists work with patients and can also practice in research settings.
Oral and maxillofacial pathology
Dentists who specialize in oral pathology research and diagnose conditions that affect oral and maxillofacial regions in patients. They look into the causes, processes and effects such conditions have on the body and can diagnose specific injuries or diseases through examinations. Oral pathologists might also use radiographic, microscopic or biochemical processes during their examinations.
Oral and maxillofacial radiology
Dentists who specialize in oral and maxillofacial radiology help produce and interpret data collected from images produced by radiology, such as X-rays. Oral radiologists might assist during the X-ray process to ensure that technicians take images of the correct parts of a patient's mouth or jaw. They can also help diagnose conditions from radiant images such as misalignment or disease.
Oral and maxillofacial surgery
Dentists who specialize in oral and maxillofacial surgery diagnose and perform surgical procedures on patients with dental conditions. This can include operations like having teeth pulled or realigning a patient's jaw. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons might also operate on soft dental tissues like a patient's gums.
Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics
Dentists who specialize in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics work with patients who want to correct or change the alignment of their teeth or jaw. They can diagnose and treat these conditions and prescribe treatment such as braces or headgear. You can also refer to these specialized dentists as orthodontists.
Dentists who specialize in periodontics focus on diseases that affect tissue surrounding or supporting teeth, primarily the gums. Periodontists can also help maintain the function and appearance of such treatments and control the spread of gum diseases. They might also help to place or replace dental implants.
Dentists who specialize in pediatric dentistry work with patients who are infants, children and teenagers to guide them in dental health and manage any conditions that arise. Many pediatric dentists educate their patients on dental health by demonstrating how to brush their teeth, floss and maintain their own dental health at home with the help of their parents. Pediatric dentists are also often trained to work with children who have special needs and require special care during a dental visit.
Dentists who specialize in prosthodontics help patients with conditions that leave them missing teeth or other oral tissues. Much of these dentists' job involves designing and creating prostheses, like dental implants or veneers, for patients who are losing or already missing teeth or parts of their jaw. Prosthodontic dentists can help patients make progress in areas that have been affected by missing teeth, like chewing and speaking clearly.
Dentists who specialize in dental anesthesiology work to manage their patients' pain levels during surgical or diagnostic procedures. Their primary concern is to ensure all patients are safe and as comfortable as possible during surgery. Dental anesthesiologists can also help patients with anxiety they feel before or during procedures.
Dentists who specialize in oral medicine help patients with complex medical conditions. These dentists can diagnose, treat and help manage medical diseases and conditions that also affect dental health. This might include growths, ulcers or other conditions that can occur in oral and maxillofacial regions of the body.
Dentists who specialize in orofacial pain treat pain disorders in patients' jaw, mouth, face, head and neck regions. These dentists can diagnose and treat conditions and prescribe paths for treatment. This might include referring patients to other specialists in other disciplines to ensure they are treating all of their conditions completely.
Required coursework and examinations for aspiring dentists
Before applying to dental school, aspiring dentists need to meet specific requirements involving coursework and exams. Here are the credentials dental students should obtain before applying to dental school:
- Bachelor's degree: Aspiring dentists need to complete a bachelor's degree, preferably in a field related to dentistry or science.
- Passing grade on Dental Acceptance Test: Dental students need to take the Dental Acceptance Test from the ADA and receive a passing grade out of the possible 30 points.
- Doctoral degree: Aspiring dentists need to complete a doctoral degree before they begin practicing, either as a Doctor of Dental Surgery or a Doctor of Dental Medicine.
- License: Dentists need to complete and pass a licensure exam to practice, which might vary depending on the state they live in. However, most licensing exams involve two written exams and clinical observations.
After completing the prerequisites, dental students can apply to dental school for the final step in their training. In dental school, dentists have to complete specific coursework to earn their degree and title. Here are a few subjects that dentists are required to complete coursework in:
- Microbiology and oral health promotion
- Dental development and anatomy
- Oral health and nutrition
- Anesthesia and pain management
- Oral surgery
Types of dental degrees
While aspiring dentists can pursue an undergraduate degree in any major, it can benefit you as a candidate to choose a degree that relates to dentistry or science. Here are a few degrees you can pursue at the undergraduate level that might help your career in dentistry:
- Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry
- Bachelor of Science in Physics
- Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology
- Bachelor of Science in Biological Science
- Bachelor of Science in Chemistry
- Pre-Dentistry program
After completing your undergraduate degree, you can also think about which advanced degree you want to pursue. The dental field recognizes two advanced degrees in dentistry:
- Doctor of Dental Surgery
- Doctor of Dental Medicine