Even though the image that probably jumps into your mind when you hear the word dentistry is your local dentist's office, there are actually quite a few specialties when it comes to dentistry, just like in any other area of medicine. But if you're looking into dentistry as a future career, it's important that you know what your options are as far as specialization goes and what careers come out of those specialties. So if you're looking for a quick guide on three of the more common dental specialties and what exactly they entail in practice, then here's what you need to know.
The specialty you'll probably use once in your lifetime (and the first specialty to exist within the field of dentistry), generally around middle school age, orthodontia is the field of working with a person's mouth to improve their bite and tooth alignment, usually through the use of tools such as spacers, expanders, and – most often – braces. The word itself demonstrates its purpose; it comes from the Greek roots orthos, which means straight, and odont, which simply means tooth. Dentists who mean to become orthodontists must go through additional schooling to earn their specialty; after graduating with a DDS, a dentist must then go through a two to three year course that culminates with a written test given by the American Board of Orthodontics. If the new orthodontist wants to take it a step further, they can be certified by that same Board, presenting 10 cases that they worked on and justifying the decisions they made in those cases to a panel of orthodontists.
The most "doctor-y" specialty for dentists, oral surgeons are those dentists that commonly work in hospital-like environments such as clinics, performing extractions and (most commonly) wisdom tooth surgery. Oral surgery isn't limited to just teeth, however – oral surgeons can correct jaw shape, jaw disorders (such as TMJ) and can even perform cosmetic surgery on the bones of the face (usually the jawbone) to alter their patients' appearance. In order to become an oral surgeon, a dentist must train an additional 4-6 years (6 being the most common duration in order to get an MD) past their dental degree, and can choose to go on for another two years after that if they wish to specialize further within their specialty in trauma or reconstruction (after tumors etc. have been removed from a jaw, for example).
The fastest-growing specialty in dentistry, cosmetic dentistry is primarily concerned with aesthetics – how the mouth and jaw look and what can be done to improve their appearance. This is where teeth whitening, veneers, and small problems like slight overbites, a gummy smile, or almost-unnoticeably crooked teeth (i.e. not crooked enough for an orthodontist to get involved) are fixed, giving you a brighter or more even smile for your troubles. To become a cosmetic dentist, a dentist will usually spend 3 years in a cosmetic dentistry program, graduating at the end with certification by the American Dentistry Association.
For more information, talk to a professional like Reed & Sahlaney Orthodontics, LLP.