Although many consider dentistry as simply the study of the teeth and the treatment of tooth decay, this is a very limited view of dentistry. Dentistry, also referred to as dental medicine, is a branch of medicine that focuses on the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of conditions and disorders in the oral cavity and nearby structures. The latter includes the head, face, jaw, neck, tongue and salivary glands.
The oral cavity is not an isolated area of the body and as such, dentistry plays a vital role in ensuring an individual’s overall health. For example, some illnesses in the body may first manifest itself in the mouth and adjacent areas. As such, the examination of lumps, ulcerations and discolorations in these areas are included in a comprehensive dental exam. The patient may be referred to another medical specialist if the condition affects another area of the body.
Dental checkups and treatments are carried out by professionals known as dentists who have received the necessary medical training and passed exams that license them to practice the profession. They are typically assisted by a dental team composed of dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental technicians and dental therapists. Aspiring dentists typically complete a bachelor’s degree before entering dental school. Depending on their specialty, they may need to spend more years in school to complete their residency education.
There are nine areas of specialization in the field of dentistry:
- Dental Public Health
- Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
- Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
- Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
- Pediatric Dentistry
The diagnosis and management of oral diseases through the use of imaging technologies like x-rays is the concern of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology while surgical treatment of the disease and injuries of the mouth and oral and maxillofacial region is the focus of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics is the area that specializes in the diagnosis and correction of dental and facial irregularities. The oral health needs of children, from infants to adolescents, are covered in Pediatric Dentistry while Periodontics deals with the diagnosis and treatment of gum and bone diseases. The replacement of missing teeth and restoration of natural teeth and other structures are the concern of Prosthodontics.
Residency education for these specialties typically take anywhere from five to six years. However, the longest residency requirement is in the field of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery which can last from eight to ten years. Dentists who have completed their education and training either possess a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree or a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree.