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Oral Health Care: A Whole New Language

Course Number: 21


Dentistry is a branch of medicine that deals with detection of disease, diagnosis, treatment of disease, restoration to repair, restore and maintain the teeth, gums and other oral tissues lost or damaged by disease, esthetic (appearance) improvement and education on how to achieve oral health and prevent diseases or injury. Also, the dentist may be responsible for replacement of missing oral structures such as teeth with an artificial replacement, i.e., complete and partial dentures (false teeth). Dentistry is a changing and expanding profession that involves treating the whole person, not just a set of teeth and oral structures. In a broad sense, all those who have any responsibility for oral health care could be considered to be a part of larger definition of dentistry.

The American Dental Association (ADA), the professional association of dentistry, in its 1997 House of Delegates defined dentistry as follows: the evaluation, diagnosis, prevention and/or treatment (non-surgical, surgical or related procedures) of diseases, disorders and/or conditions of the oral cavity, maxillofacial area and/or the adjacent and associated structures and their impact on the human body; provided by a dentist, within the scope of his/her education, training and experience, in accordance with the ethics of the profession and applicable law.1

The dentist is a graduate of an accredited dental college who has been issued a license from a state board of dentistry to practice dentistry. The dentist is educated in a university dental program after having completed specific educational requirements. The dental program typically lasts four years after admission into the program, and the graduate receives either a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine). DDS and DMD have the same educational requirements and are the same degree. The college or university program chooses what to call the dental degree. For more information on dentistry visit

There are nine dental specialties recognized by the ADA. They include:

  • Dental Public Health: The science and art of preventing and controlling dental diseases and promoting dental health through organized community efforts.

  • Endodontics: The branch of dentistry which is concerned with the morphology, physiology and pathology of human dental pulp and the surrounding tissues. The practitioner of this specialty is called an endodontist. The endodontist performs root canal procedures.

  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology: The specialty of dentistry and discipline of pathology that deals with the character, identification and management of diseases that affect the oral and maxillofacial regions. The practitioner of this specialty is usually called an oral pathologist.

  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery: The specialty of dentistry which includes the diagnosis, surgical and adjunctive treatment of diseases, injuries and defects involving both the functional and esthetic aspects of the hard and soft tissues of the oral and maxillofacial region. The practitioner of this specialty is usually called an oral surgeon.

  • Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics: The dental specialty concerned with the prevention and correction of abnormally positioned teeth and malformations of their related structures. The practitioner of this specialty is usually called an orthodontist.

  • Pediatric Dentistry: an age-defined specialty that provides primary and comprehensive preventive and therapeutic oral health care for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health care needs. The practitioner of pediatric dentistry is called a pediatric dentist.

  • Periodontics: A specialty of dentistry which encompasses the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth or their substitutes and the maintenance of the health, function and esthetics of these structures and tissues.1 The practitioner of this specialty is usually called a periodontist.

  • Prosthodontics: Another specialty of dentistry whose responsibility is the restoration of natural teeth and/or the replacement of missing teeth and contiguous oral and maxillofacial tissues with artificial substitutes. The practitioner of this specialty is usually called a prosthodontist.

  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology: The specialty of dentistry and discipline that uses imaging and associated technology for the diagnosis and management of a range of conditions affecting the mouth, jaws and related areas of the head and neck. A practitioner of this specialty is called an oral and maxillofacial radiologist (OMR).

  • For more information about the dental specialties go to