A dentist is not a doctor of medicine (MD), or a doctor of osteopathy (DO), but instead follows a different path toward becoming medically proficient in caring for teeth and gums. In most cases, such training, which results in either a doctor of dental surgery (DDS) title, or doctor of dental medicine (DMD) degree. The abbreviation DMD comes from the Latin name, Dentariae Medicinae Doctor.
Training for either degree is usually undertaken after a four-year undergraduate degree is complete. The American Dental Association (ADA) considers both the DDS and the DMD to be equally valid before a dentist takes tests to become licensed.
The dentist, in the loosest sense of the word can be called a doctor, much as one might also apply the term to a professor with a Ph. D. The dentist does receive some training in basic medicine to offer emergency services should a patient have a bad reaction to anesthesia during a dental procedure. However, most of the training in dental schools is specific to the study of the diseases and resolution of diseases of the gums and teeth.
Like a doctor, a dentist can also choose to specialize in a certain form of dentistry. Some dentists become oral surgeons, orthodontists, or pediatric dentists. Many who do not specialize will refer patients with complicated needs to specialists for certain types of dental work.
Though a dentist is not a medical doctor in the traditional sense, it is still quite appropriate to call one’s dentist by the title Dr., when speaking to or of them. Some dentists prefer the title Dr., while others work on a first name basis with their patients. It is not appropriate to refer to a dentist as Mr., Mrs., or Ms., since training has resulted in a doctorate.
Some dentists work closely with doctors in certain types of oral surgery. For example, repairs of cleft palate usually require the services of both cosmetic surgeons and good oral surgeons in order to help teeth grow appropriately. Often schools that have great medical programs also have great dental programs. For example, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) is known for both its medical and dental schools.
Children or adults with complex medical issues may find the best treatments at hospitals attached to both a medical and dental school, since these schools are most likely to have familiarity and experience treating rare conditions that require a cooperative effort between a dentist and a doctor.