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Specialties in Dentistry

Over the next few weeks, I will do my best at offering a brief explanation of what specialists do in Dentistry. In the beginning, Dentistry was actually a specialty of Medicine. Dentists were trained either by attending Medical School and later receiving training in dentistry or by doing an apprenticeship in dentistry, or sometimes both. On the frontier, dentists often had no formal training at all.

Things have changed. By the mid 19th century, there were dental programs at some colleges and universities. The separation of dentistry from medicine was largely a North American idea at this point. Dental associations and regulatory bodies were forming. By the end of the 19th century, dentistry had established itself as separate from medicine, but there has been some resurgence of the connected nature of dental and medical training programs. For example, ending only a couple of years ago, the University of Kentucky had a combined MD/DDS program. However, for the most part, dental and medical training programs have been more diverging than converging in recent decades.

There are ten recognized specialties in dentistry in Canada. A specialty is recognized by the dental regulatory bodies across the country as a separate field with its own training programs and accreditation for those training programs and for the graduates. Each of the specialties is considered to be separate from the others, although some of the specialties have certain procedures that are claimed by more than one specialty. Certified specialists are considered authoritative voices in each of their separate fields. In Ontario, for a specialist to operate outside his specialty requires what is termed a dual license which in essence allows a person to operate as a specialist in a certain specialty and also as a general dentist. The services of a specialist are needed when dental treatment is too complex for the training and experience of a general dentist or when the general dentist cannot determine a diagnosis for a patient’s dental problem.

The specialties in dentistry are (in alphabetical order): 1) Dental Anesthesiology, 2) Dental Public Health, 3) Endodontics, 4) Oral Pathology, 5) Oral Radiology, 6) Oral Surgery (also called Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery), 7) Orthodontics, 8) Pediatric Dentistry, 9) Periodontology, and 10) Prosthodontics. In other countries, there may be more recognized specialties or less than we have here. For instance, Britain has a specialty in Special Needs Dentistry, and the USA does not have the specialty of Dental Anesthesiology.

Dental Specialists complete their training as general dentists and then are trained as specialists. To become a dentist in Canada, a person has to complete at least two years of university training to enter dental school, but many have a BSc or BA before entering dental school. Dental school takes four years to complete after entrance (except in the U of Saskatchewan where it takes five years, or at U of the Pacific in California where it takes three years). Dental specialty programs used to take two years, but now take three years. Some programs in Oral Surgery take four years. So you can see that by the time a dental specialist graduates from his specialty program, he has spent long enough in university to qualify for the really good student basketball tickets.

Although there are ten specialties in dentistry in Canada, most patients will never need all of them in their personal dental treatment, and may never need any of them. We are fortunate to have three of the specialties available right here in town. We have a certified Oral Surgeon. Most of his work has to do with taking out wisdom teeth and other teeth, but his field is quite a bit broader than just that. We also have a certified Orthodontist. Most of his work is moving teeth with braces or other appliances, but an orthodontist is also a specialist in the growth and development of the lower face. Our other certified specialist is a Public Health Dentist. He has designed programs to enhance dental health for use in many of the communities throughout the region.

- This article was written by Dr. Mike Christensen and published in the Daily Miner and News, and Enterprise. Local Kenora News Publicatons (1998-2006)

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