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  Who is a Dentist?

A Dentist is a doctor who provides primary dental care and accepts professional responsibility for the evaluation (including examination), diagnosis, treatment, management, and overall coordination of services to meet his or her patient’s oral health needs consistent with the American Dental Association Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct.

More than 80% of Dentists are general practitioners, while about 20% are dental specialists who limit their practices to one of the nine American Dental Association-recognized dental specialties (endodontics, oral and maxillofacial radiology, oral and maxillofacial pathology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics, pediatric dentistry, periodontics, public health, and prosthodontics).

  What does a Dentist do?

In accordance with his or her education, training, and experience, a Dentist evaluates, diagnoses, prevents, and treats diseases, disorders, and conditions of the oral cavity, maxillofacial area, and adjacent and associated structures.

Dentists can work in private practices, public health facilities, hospitals, the military, or other settings. They also can have careers in teaching, research, and dental industry.

  What education, training, and experience must one have to function as a Dentist?

In order to practice as a Dentist, an individual must meet three main requirements:

  • graduation from an American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation-accredited pre-doctoral dental education program, which grants a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree upon completion of the program. A Dentist must complete three to four years of undergraduate study prior to attending the four-year dental education program.
  • successful completion of the National Board of Dental Examinations Parts I and II administered by the American Dental Association Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations
  • successful completion of a clinical licensing examination administered by a state or regional testing agency that meets the requirement of the state board of dentistry where the Dentist wishes to practice

State dental boards may have additional requirements, such as proof of malpractice insurance, completion of a jurisprudence examination, or current certification in Basic Life Support for Healthcare Providers.

  How and by whom is a Dentist supervised?

Dentists are independent practitioners who practice under the rules and regulations of the state board of dentistry in the state where they are licensed.

  What are the typical day-to-day activities of a Dentist?

On a typical day, Dentists may provide routine or emergency surgical or non-surgical dental care. For example, a Dentist may place amalgam or composite fillings, prepare teeth for crowns and bridges, provide root canal treatments, treat infection in the tooth or its supporting structures, or provide routine examinations.

Dentists have members of the dental health care team who help provide efficient, cost-effective care to patients. Other dental team members include dental assistants, dental hygienists, and dental laboratory technicians.

  Must a Dentist be licensed or certified to function in his or her role as part of the health care team?

Dentists must obtain a state license in order to practice and provide patient care. Most states require Dentists to obtain a minimum number of continuing education credits to renew their licenses in accordance with the state’s renewal cycle (every two to five years, depending on the state).

Some Dentists become specialists in one of the nine American Dental Association-recognized dental specialties which include endodontics, oral and maxillofacial radiology, oral and maxillofacial pathology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics, pediatric dentistry, periodontics, public health, or prosthodontics. Less than half of all states require specialty licensure in addition to the general dental license. Though not required, specialists can become certified by that specialty’s American Dental Association-recognized dental specialty certifying board.

  What types of patients would benefit from the care of a Dentist?

All patients should seek care from a Dentist in order to maintain optimal oral health. Oral health is a key factor in overall health.

  How and when does a Dentist become involved in the care of a particular patient?

Most Dentists function in private practice settings. Patients typically seek them out or are referred to them by their physician, relatives, friends, other patients, or other health care professionals.

  Professional organizations for Dentists:

Contributed by:
Lois Haglund, American Dental Association

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