The American Dental Association formally recognizes nine specialties in dentistry. Each of these subfields is headed by its own board, which determines examination and eligibility criteria for certification. While official certification is not necessary to concentrate in one particular specialty, doing so increases your qualifications and reputability.
Specializing can give you the opportunity to focus your career in an area of high interest to you or where your skills will be best suited. This guide lists the nine specialties and their boards to help you decide if and how to concentrate your practice.
Oral and Maxillofacial Specialties – relating to the jaw and face areas
1. Pathology (American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology): Research conducted in this area addresses the causes, nature, and effects of diseases occurring inside the mouth. Dentists specializing in this field diagnose and manage conditions such as bumps, ulcers, and oral cancer. A variety of techniques are being used to research and diagnose these conditions, such as radiographic and biochemical examinations.
2. Radiology (American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology): This field focuses on the use of imaging technologies to diagnose head and neck disease. Examples of systems being used for this purpose include cone beam CTs, MRIs, and intra-oral imaging (such as Bitewing). Not everyone who specializes in oral/maxillofacial radiology engages in clinical practice; alternative career options include teaching and conducting research.
3. Surgery (American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery): Dental specialists in this area diagnose and surgically resolve diseases, injuries, and defects in oral tissue and the maxillofacial region. They perform both functional and aesthetic procedures, including wisdom tooth removal and reconstructive work for accident victims. The most common work environments for these professionals are outpatient clinics and hospitals.
Contact with Children – expect to work mostly on children
4. Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics (American Board of Orthodontics): This field centers on diagnosing and preventing problems such as malocclusion, neuromuscular issues, and skeletal abnormalities. They straighten crooked teeth and jaws in order to fix shifting jaws, chewing problems, and facial asymmetry. Typically, they perform work on developing structures, such as when applying braces, causing them to have significant contact with children. This role usually involves working normal business hours at a private practice, previously established clinic/practice, or specialty group practice.
5. Pediatric Dentistry (American Board of Pediatric Dentistry): Pediatric dentists deliver primary oral health care for children (including those with special needs) from infancy through their teen years. Because they are expected to address the majority of these children’s needs, they must be familiar with a wide range of conditions, appropriate procedures, and developmental milestones.
6. Dental Public Health (American Association of Public Health Dentistry): With a goal of improving oral health for the general public, professionals in this field organize and participate in various community endeavors, including education programs, applied dental research, and reduced cost clinics. Typically, these positions involve a significant amount of administrative work. If you are interested only in participating in the clinical roles, consider volunteering.
7. Endodontics (American Board of Endodontics): Endodontists treat problems— mainly decay— in the connective tissues inside teeth (called “dental pulp”) and roots. The most common remedy they implement is root canal therapy. These dentists usually have a private practice or join a specialty group, although some choose to work in a hospital or clinic.
8. Periodontics (American Board of Periodontology): This field encompasses the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of problems/degeneration of the bone and gum involved in supporting teeth. One widely recognized procedure is applying dental implants. For the most part, this role involves normal business hours, but this may change depending on caseload.
9. Prosthodontics (American Board of Prosthodontics): Prosthodontists treat issues stemming from missing or inadequate teeth with fixtures that serve as substitutes. Their main aim is to maximize oral function, comfort, and appearance. They are responsible for preparing and maintaining the fittings, including items such as crowns and dentures.
If you are looking to leave behind the traditional clinical work environment, you might also want to consider an alternative dental career.
Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Outlook Handbook: Dentists
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