Choosing a Dental Specialty

Some individuals go into dental school already knowing what area of specialty they want to go into. Conversely there are some who figure it out as they matriculate, and there are others who are just not sure what to specialize in, if at all.

When the third year of dental school comes around the halls are usually abuzz with chatter of people applying to various specialties. It's a worry-filled, yet exciting time for many. There are always the bunch wanting to specialize in Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, Orthodontics, Pediatric Dentistry and Endodontics. Then there are the handful that chooses to go into the less popular areas such as Public Health and Radiology, to name a few.

There are nine (9) specialties of dentistry that are recognized by The National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards, and they are:
Dental Public Health: Dental public health is the science and art of preventing and controlling dental diseases and promoting dental health through organized community efforts. It is that form of dental practice which serves the community as a patient rather than the individual. It is concerned with the dental health education of the public, with applied dental research, and with the administration of group dental care programs as well as the prevention and control of dental diseases on a community basis. (Adopted May 2018)
Endodontics: Endodontics is the branch of dentistry which is concerned with the morphology, physiology and pathology of the human dental pulp and periradicular tissues. Its study and practice encompass the basic and clinical sciences including biology of the normal pulp, the etiology, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases and injuries of the pulp and associated periradicular conditions. (Adopted May 2018 
Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology: Oral pathology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of pathology that deals with the nature, identification, and management of diseases affecting the oral and maxillofacial regions. It is a science that investigates the causes, processes, and effects of these diseases. The practice of oral pathology includes research and diagnosis of diseases using clinical, radiographic, microscopic, biochemical, or other examinations. (Adopted May 2018) 
Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology: Oral and maxillofacial radiology is the specialty of dentistry and discipline of radiology concerned with the production and interpretation of images and data produced by all modalities of radiant energy that are used for the diagnosis and management of diseases, disorders and conditions of the oral and maxillofacial region. (Adopted May 2018) 
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery: Oral and maxillofacial surgery is the specialty of dentistry which includes the diagnosis, surgical and adjunctive treatment of diseases, injuries and defects involving both the functional and esthetic aspects of the hard and soft tissues of the oral and maxillofacial region. (Adopted May 2018) 
Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics: Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics is the dental specialty that includes the diagnosis, prevention, interception, and correction of malocclusion, as well as neuromuscular and skeletal abnormalities of the developing or mature orofacial structures. (Adopted May 2018)
Pediatric Dentistry: Pediatric Dentistry is an age-defined specialty that provides both primary and comprehensive preventive and therapeutic oral health care for infants and children through adolescence, including those with special health care needs. (Adopted May 2018) 
Periodontics: Periodontics is that specialty of dentistry which encompasses the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth or their substitutes and the maintenance of the health, function and esthetics of these structures and tissues. (Adopted May 2018)
Prosthodontics: Prosthodontics is the dental specialty pertaining to the diagnosis, treatment planning, rehabilitation and maintenance of the oral function, comfort, appearance and health of patients with clinical conditions associated with missing or deficient teeth and/or oral and maxillofacial tissues using biocompatible substitutes. (Adopted May 2018)
But how exactly do you choose a specialty or even know that you want to specialize?
My suggestions would be:

  • Shadow dentists and specialists - this will give you direct insight into the daily life of that specialist. Yo will see first hand the different procedures performed, different treatment modalities and how cases are managed.  
  • Internships/externships - these are usually done in an academic or hospital setting. This offers insight as to what a typical day in residency is like and often times go more in depth on the different treatment and procedure that are done. 
  • Consider Compensation - although personally I believe one should go into a specialty that they are strongest in and that they enjoy, some individuals regard compensation quite highly. Check the average salary for a certain specialty in your area. You might even consider moving to a different state if the compensation there is better. 
  • Consider Lifestyle - the lifestyle of specialists can be quite different so do some research to ensure you know exactly what you're getting into ahead of time. Oral & maxillofacial surgeons typically lead quite busy lives depending on the type of practice they go into. During their residency years (4-6 years post dental school) they might be on-call and have less flexible schedules than say an Orthodontist who's typical week comprises of 4 work days.
All in all, ensure your research is thorough before you make a decision on any area of specialty. You may even want to consider being a general dentist for a few years before deciding that you want to specialize. At the end of the day, make sure that you are well informed about a specific specialty before going into it.

Source: American Dental Association website 


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