Dental Specialist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Becoming a dental specialist requires a significant amount of formal education. Learn about the degree requirements, job duties and training to see if this is the career for you.

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After graduating from dental school, a dentist can train further in order to become a specialist such as orthodontist, prosthodontist or oral or oral and maxillofacial surgeon. These programs consist of classroom and clinical studies and take at least two years to complete.

Essential Information

A dental specialist is a licensed dentist who has chosen to specialize in a specific area of oral health. After earning a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD), dental specialists are required to go through additional training in their selected discipline at an accredited dental school.

Required Education DDS or DMD and postgraduate training in dental specialty
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 18% (Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons)
18% (Orthodontists)
18% (Prosthodontists)
9% (Dentists, all other specialties)
Average Salary (2015)* $233,900 (Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons)
$221,390 (Orthodontists)
$161,020 (Prosthodontists)
$171,040 (Dentists, all other specialties)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties of a Dental Specialist

Because they have undergone additional training, a dental specialist is expected to have advanced skills and knowledge of his or her area of expertise, along with full knowledge of general dentistry. The job duties for each specialty differ considerably. For example, oral surgeons perform tooth extractions and reconstructive surgery, endodontists commonly perform root canals and other procedures pertaining to the inside of teeth, and periodontists treat gum-related diseases.

Additionally, dental specialists are generally required to prepare patients and equipment for surgery, perform regular maintenance of dental apparatuses, complete some administrative duties and properly dispose of waste materials.

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  • Endodontics
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  • Oral Surgery
  • Orthodontics
  • Pediatric Dentistry
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics

Requirements for a Dental Specialist

A pre-dental undergraduate degree is not required for admission to dental school, but dental students must complete pre-dental science requirements by taking courses such as biology, chemistry and physics. Before enrolling in dental school, applicants must take and pass the Dental Admission Test (DAT).

Upon acceptance to a general dentistry school, potential dental specialists will go on to complete four years of dental school and pass the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE) to attain a state license to practice general dentistry. The individual will earn a DDS or DMD. It is important to note that there is no difference between a DDS or a DMD; it is just a matter of which nomenclature your school uses.

To become a dental specialist, additional education is required. This post-graduate training generally lasts at least another two years after general dental school. These training programs include extremely specialized clinical practicums, and dentist specialists tend to only practice in their field of specialization upon completion.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

From 2014-2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted 18% employment growth for orthodontists and oral and maxillofacial surgeons, which was the same projected growth for dentists in general. All other dental specialties not listed separately could expect a 9% increase, while prosthodontists will increase 18% during that same time, per the BLS. In 2015, oral and maxillofacial surgeons earned an annual average salary of $233,900, while orthodontists earned $221,390, prosthodontists made $161,020, and the average annual salary of all other dental specialties was $171,040, according to the BLS.

After four years of study in dental school, you can receive a DDS or DMD, then pass the National Board Dental Examination. Upon completion of further education, you may become licensed in one of a number of dental specialties. Jobs in these specialties are expected to grow through 2024, and salaries are high.

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