Understanding the Difference between a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) and an Oral Surgeon

A patient recently told me that her dental implants were placed by her general dentist who is also an oral surgeon.  I responded that it was quite unlikely that her dentist was an oral surgeon since one cannot be both a general dentist and an oral surgeon.  She pulled up her dentist’s website and pointed to the big bold letters, “Doctor of Dental Surgery,” in the dentist’s bio. “Isn’t that oral surgery?” she asked.  The simple answer is “no.”  Doctor of Dental Surgery, abbreviated as DDS, is the degree given to a graduating dentist.  It means that the individual has completed dental school.  Most schools offer a degree of DDS, while others, mostly among the Ivy League schools, extend a Doctor of Medical Dentistry (DMD) degree to their graduating students.  For all practical purposes, DDS and DMD are the same and only mean the individual is a dentist.

Hence, all dentists, whether they are general dentists or specialists, have either a DDS or a DMD.  A DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) degree does not mean a dentist is an oral surgeon in spite of what the name suggests.  Dentists with no formal post-doctoral residency or training are known as general dentists while those who complete post-doctoral residencies become specialists in their respective fields.  These areas include orthodontics, periodontics, endodontics, pediatric dentistry, prosthodontics, and oral surgery.

For example, a dentist must complete an additional four to six years of training in a residency program to be an oral surgeonWhy is this important to know? Because you shouldn’t be misled by thinking a dentist with the title “Doctor of Dental Surgery” is an oral surgeon.  A dentist with a DDS title may be called an oral surgeon only if he or she has received additional formal training in an accredited oral surgery program.  While an oral surgeon has expertise in teeth extractions, dental implants, and bone grafting procedures; a general dentist will be the expert on restorative procedures, cosmetic dentistry, and establishing a healthy bite.

To learn more about dental specialties and general dentistry and what each one does, see our website for General Dentistry and Recognized Dental Specialists.