D.D.S. or D.M.D.
What's the difference?
by Simon W. Rosenberg,
based on some Research by
Kimberly A. Loos, D.D.S. and Brad J. Loos
Many people, including dentists, are confused over the use
of the D.D.S. and D.M.D. degrees. Today some dental schools
grant a D.D.S. (Doctor of Dental Surgery) degree while others
prefer to award the D.M.D. (Doctor of Dental Medicine) degree
instead. The training the dentists receive is very similar but
the name of the degree granted is different.
Ancient medicine was divided into two groups: 1) the surgery
group that dealt with treating diseases and injuries using
instruments; and 2) the medicine group that dealt with healing
diseases using medicine. Originally there was only the D.D.S.
degree, which stands for Doctor of Dental Surgery. It was given
by independent schools of dentistry that were more like trade
or apprenticeship schools and in the beginning were not
affiliated with any university.
This all changed in 1867 when Harvard University added a
dental school. Harvard University only grants degrees in Latin.
Harvard did not adopt the D.D.S. or Doctor of Dental Surgery
degree because the Latin translation was Chirurgae Dentium
Doctoris or C.D.D. The people at Harvard thought that C.D.D.
was cumbersome. A Latin scholar was consulted. The scholar
suggested the ancient Medicinae Doctor be prefixed with
Dentariae. This is how the D.M.D. or "Dentariae Medicinae
Doctor" degree was started. (Congratulations! Now you probably
know more Latin than most dentists!)
At the turn of the 20th century, there were 57 dental
schools in the U.S. but only Harvard and Oregon awarded the
D.M.D. In 1989, 23 of the 66 North American dental schools
awarded the D.M.D. I think about half the Canadian dental
schools now award the D.M.D. degree. In the Northeast, Tufts
(my alma mata), Harvard, Boston Univ., Univ of Connecticut, New
Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry, Pennsylvania Univ.,
and Temple Univ. all issue D.M.D. degrees to their dental
The American Dental Association (A.D.A.) is aware of
the public confusion surrounding these degrees. The A.D.A. has
tried on several occasions to reduce this confusion. Several
sample proposals include: 1) eliminate the D.M.D. degree; 2)
eliminate the D.D.S. degree; or 3) eliminate both degrees and
invent a brand new degree that every dental school will agree
to use. Unfortunately, this confusion may be with us for a long
time. When emotional factors like school pride and tradition
arise, it is difficult to find a compromise.
The California Dental Association (CDA) debated the
differences between dental degrees during 1997 and could not
form a consensus. In places like New York where D.D.S. is the
most common degree, some dentists with D.M.D. degrees prefer to
use the D.D.S. as their degree on their stationary or when they
advertise. These dentists argue that in their areas the public
understands that D.D.S. means "dentist". Indeed, many entities
such as the New York and California State Boards of Dental
Examiners communicates with all licensed dentists as D.D.S.,
even if they originally graduated with a D.M.D. or other
similar dental degree. Some D.D.S. dentists object to D.M.D.
dentists using D.D.S., mostly out of a desire to cut down on
competition. Is this an educational or equality issue?
In my experience, where I have only used D.M.D. since
receiving it from Tufts University in Boston, there are a group
of patients that think the D.M.D. is a better degree. Some
patients think that it is a variation of the M.D. medical
degree or that the D.M.D. degree is “superior” in some way
because it is given by what they consider to be better
universities -- either Ivy League or the more elite colleges
such as Tufts, Harvard, BU, Penn, etc. Generally, it is the
state schools such as SUNY at Buffalo and at Stony Brook, or
dental schools that started as independent schools that later
affiliated with universities, such as NYU’s and Columbia’s
dental schools, that give D.D.S. degrees.
In academic and political circles, advocates for the D.D.S.
say it represents the "Doctor of Dental Surgery" aspect
of treatment since most of dental treatment involves the
cutting or removing of tooth, gum or jaw bone tissue before
restoring it. D.M.D. advocates emphasize the so-called
Medical model where emphasis is on information gathering
and diagnosis before treatment is planned. In that approach to
dental care the patient’s medical history, general health and
the reasons the patient has sought care is gathered. Then all
of the soft tissues of the head and neck are examined to
identify abnormalities such as oral cancer, local oral
pathology or oral signs of a systemic disease such as diabetes,
blood disease, etc. Following this there is an assessment of
the periodontal (gum) condition and the teeth are examined for
decay, functional bite, esthetics as well as their orthodontic
and jaw relation. All of these factors are considered and the
dentist and patient act as “partners” in determining the
treatment to be done and the priorities and treatment
“Right” in this argument about
D.M.D. versus D.D.S.?
In my opinion, neither side.
Dentistry today demands proper diagnosis that takes into
consideration all of your patient and dental factors and plans
treatment geared to your desires and financial realities. All
dental schools now emphasize excellence in both diagnosis and
clinical skills and I think most dentists practice with that as
their goals as well. You need to choose a dentist whom you feel
has done a good job of examining you with all of the tools of
modern dentistry, has an office with proper infection control
and a “quality care” environment and whom you feel comfortable
and confident that their dental team can provide you with the
level of dental care you need and want.
I hope this article provides some
historical and current details regarding these equivalent