Dentists have one of the following series of letters after their names: D.D.S. (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or D.M.D. (Doctor of Dental Medicine). Both of these degrees mean the same thing, but different schools may award different degrees. The American Dental Association (ADA) recognizes both degrees as being equal, meaning the dentist has the required amount of education necessary to be a dentist. Dentists may also have one or more of nine ADA-recognized specialties in dentistry.
The American Dental Association recognizes nine specialties in dentistry: Dental Public Health, Endodontics, Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, Pediatric Dentistry, Periodontics and Prosthodontics. These specialties will not be abbreviated; rather, they will be included under the dentist's name on her business cards or plaques, as well as an explanation of their meanings.
The D.D.S. or D.M.D. after a dentist's name is meant to signify that the dentist is a licensed practitioner of dentistry. The abbreviations also let patients know that the dentist has the required amount of education needed to be a dentist.
The American Dental Association recognizes that having multiple abbreviations after a dentist's name leads to confusion on the part of patients. For that reason, the ADA has a template that it advises dentists to use. The template is as follows: Dental Office of [Doctor's Name]/[Accepted Abbreviations]/Effective as of [Date].
The American Dental Association frowns on dentists using confusing abbreviations and acronyms. Dentists should always have an available list of abbreviations and meanings. Dentists may include abbreviations of professional organizations they belong to, such as the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) or American Public Health Association (APHA). A full list of abbreviations and their meanings can be found on the ADA Web site in the Resources section.
Some dental practitioners do not need to be dentists to work on teeth. They include dental assistants (CDA for Certified Dental Assistant) and hygienists (Licensed Dental Hygienist). Make sure your dentist has D.D.S or D.M.D after their names if you only want licensed dentists doing the work on your teeth.