is the art and science of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of conditions, diseases, and disorders of the oral cavity
, the maxillofacial region, and its associated structures as it relates to human beings. A dentist is qualified to practice dentistry. In most countries, several years of training in a university (usually 4-8) and some practical experience working with actual patients' dentition are required to become a qualified dentist. The patron saint of dentists is Saint Apollonia, martyred in Alexandria by having all her teeth violently extracted.
The first dental school, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, opened in Baltimore, Maryland in 1840. Harvard Dental School was the first dental school to affiliate with a university in 1867 (renamed Harvard School of Dental Medicine in 1940.)
General Dental Practice includes most examination, diagnosis, treatment planning, treatment, and prevention of disease. The dentist and with the aide of other dental auxiliaries frequently uses X-rays and other equipment to ensure correct diagnosis and treatment planning. Treatment may include filling dental cavities, removing the nerves of teeth (R.C.T or Root Canal Treatment), treating diseases of the gums, removing teeth (Extraction), and replacing lost teeth with bridges and dentures (Dental Plates). Anesthesia is often used in any treatment that might cause pain. Teeth may be filled with gold, silver, amalgam, or cements, and with fused porcelain inlays. Dentists treat diseases of the mouth and gums such as trench mouth and Periodontitis.
An important part of general dental practice is preventive dentistry. If a dentist examines a patient's teeth at regular intervals, a disease may be detected and treated before it becomes serious. Dentists also demonstrate proper methods of brushing and flossing the teeth. They may advise their patients about what food to eat or to avoid for good dental health. Dentists may also treat teeth with Fluorides or other substances to prevent decay.
Periodontics is the study of clinical aspects of the supporting structures of the teeth (i.e the periodontium), which includes the gingiva (gums), alveolar bone (jaw), root cementum, and the periodontal ligament. The word comes from the Greek words peri meaning around and odons meaning tooth. Literally taken, it means study of that which is "around the tooth".
A periodontist is a dentist that specialises in treating diseases of the periodontium .
Periodontal diseases take on many different forms, but is usually a result of bacterial infection of the gums. Untreated, it often leads to tooth loss and alveolar bone loss.
Also see: periodontology, periodontitis
Dentistry in the United States
In the United States, dentists earn either a D.D.S. (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or D.M.D.(Doctor of Dental Medicine) degree. There is no difference in the training for either degree. The degrees are equivalent, and recognized equally by all state boards of dentistry. The most common degree awarded by dental schools is the D.D.S. degree with only a few East Coast schools offering the D.M.D. degree. There are 56 Accredited Dental schools in the United States requiring 4 years of post graduate study (except for one unique 3 year program at the University of the Pacific). Most applicants to dental school have attained at least a B.S. or B.A. degree, however, a small percentage are admitted after only fulfilling specific prerequisite courses. So unlike many other countries, it can take more than 8 years to become a dentist. (List of dental schools in the United States) The difference relates to the history involved in the division of medicine and surgery in medical practice. There has been a recent movement to include a 5th year of education that focuses on purely practical training in the clinical setting. In at least one state, a state dental license can be received without taking the licensing exam (State Board Exam) upon completing this additional year of training.
Licensure is organized on three levels in most areas. All dentists must pass National Boards, Regional Boards, and then take a jurisprudence exam accepted by their state to fullfill their requirements to get a state license. Although a state license is only valid in the issuing state, because of the regional boards a dentist may be able to apply for licensure in any other state within the jurisdiction of their regional board. There are many cooperative agreements between states that allow recognition of another state's license so as to procure a license either via "licensure by credentials" or "licensure by reciprocity." Although a national licensure exam has yet to be made, the American Dental Association (ADA) has worked with education and examining groups to form such an exam.
A dentist may go on for further training in a dental specialty which require an additional 1 to 7 years of post-doctoral training. There are 9 recognized dental specialties. They are Endodontics (root canal treatment), Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, Pediatric Dentistry, Periodontics (gums), Prosthodontics (complicated dental reconstruction), Orthodontics (moving teeth), Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (tooth removal and surgery of the oral and related structures), and Dental Public Health. There is no specialty in esthetic dentistry or implantology, and no additional training is required for a dentist to make the claim of being an esthetic or cosmetic dentist. Dentists are forbidden to claim that they are specialists in areas of practice in which there is no recognized specialty. They may limit their practices to a single area of dentistry, and claim that their practice is limited to that area.
Any general dentist may perform those procedures designated within the enumerated specialties if they deem themselves competent. Many general dentists train in certain aspects of the above specialties such as the placement and restoration of dental implants, advanced prosthodontics and endodontics, and have limited or heavily focused their practices to these areas. When a general dentist performs any procedure that falls within the realm of a specialty, they are expected to perform with the same level of expertise as a certified specialist and are legally held to such standards with respect to any issues of malpractice.