Does Your Dentist Have School Cred?

Take a look on the wall in any dentist’s office and you’ll probably spy some nicely matted and framed credentials. Along with the title of “Doctor,” many have accrued an assortment of acronyms trailing their names. But, what do they all mean and should consumers care?

In the field of dentistry, credentials, experience and ongoing education matter a great deal – as do the honest opinions of satisfied dental patients with healthy, pain-free and attractive smiles! Every consumer should know who their dentist is, where he or she went to school, and their level of experience. Your dental office’s website is a good place to start looking. Just find the “About” tab on the page menu and click to open. Or, check out the pictures in the dentist’s “Before and After” photo gallery.

The “Before” pictures will show patients with overbites, missing teeth, underbites, decay and collapsed smiles. The “After” photographs demonstrate what’s possible through mouth reconstruction, implants, porcelain veneers placement, and other cosmetic dentistry procedures.

The ADA currently recognizes nine dental specialties that require intense study (residencies) and certification in a particular field of dentistry. These are acquired through additional training, following undergraduate studies and a degree from a four-year dental school. Dentists will have “DDS” (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or “DMD” (Doctor of Dental Medicine) designated after their names. Dentists must also acquire state licensure.

ADA’s nine formally recognized specialties include:

  1. Dental public health
  2. Pediatric dentistry (children’s dentistry)
  3. Orthodontics/dentofacial orthopedics (braces/orofacial correction)
  4. Endodontics dentistry (tooth pulp/roots)
  5. Periodontics dentistry (gums)
  6. Prosthodontics dentistry (tooth restoration)
  7. Oral & maxillofacial surgery (mouth surgery)
  8. Oral & maxillofacial radiology (radiographic diagnostics)
  9. Oral & maxillofacial pathology (disease management)

Dental anesthesiology is currently under review for formal specialty recognition. The ADA’s Council on Dental Education and Licensure voted May 4 to support the American Society of Dentist Anesthesiologists’ (ASDA) request for specialty status. The ADA’s 2012 House of Delegates are now charged to make a decision on the pending application, which was first submitted by the ASDA in June 2011.

Other treatments, such as dental implantation, complex surgical cosmetic dentistry, temporomandibular joint rehabilitation, bite restoration and facelift dentistry require many hours of training with mentors and hands-on interaction with actual patients. While these dental fields do not currently have official “specialty” designation, the more continuing education and experience a dentist has in these particular areas, the more likely that a patient will have a positive outcome.

Unfortunately, the average American is not very knowledgeable about dental health, oral hygiene standards, or meaningful credentials. Again, dental office websites are an excellent source of easy-to-understand information, and a good dentist or dental hygienist will be more than happy to break down the jargon and to explain dental hygiene standards and techniques. It’s important for patients to take responsibility for their own health, asking dentists to explain diagnostic tests or dental restoration procedures that are being considered.

In a recent online dental knowledge survey posted by the American Dental Association (ADA), the average score was only 60 out of 100. Participants’ scores ranged from a high of 85 to a low score of 29 percent. Fifteen hundred consumers participated in the poll.

Statistical Highlights of the ADA Dental Quiz

  • Only 19% of poll-takers knew that sugar caused cavities.
  • Only 10% knew to brush teeth after every meal – at minimum twice daily.
  • Only 25% knew the recommended age for a child’s first dental visit. (No later than first birthday.)
  • Only 6% of quiz-takers knew the age at which a child should be able to brush his teeth himself. (When the child can brush thoroughly for 2 minutes and spit out toothpaste.)
  • Those with college degrees scored 62% on average.
  • High school grads scored 55% on average.
  • Women scored 4% higher than men

Has it been a while since your last checkup? You can change that today. Please call your dentist’s office to set up an appointment for a professional cleaning and dental exam.

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