Most people know the different areas of focus for doctors, but often can't explain the different types of dentists. For instance, what is the difference between DDS and DMD? Even many dentists couldn't tell you.
To begin with, it is helpful to explain that DDS and DMD stand for Doctor of Dental Surgery and Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry or Doctor of Dental Medicine, respectively. Different schools award different degrees. Despite the difference in name, however, one is not superior to the other.
Of the 58 dental schools in the United States and Puerto Rico, 36 give DDS degrees and 22 give DMDs. According to the American Dental Association, “There is no difference between the two degrees; dentists who have a DMD or DDS have the same education. State licensing boards accept either degree as equivalent, and both degrees allow licensed individuals to practice the same scope of general dentistry.”
The question then is this: If they're essentially the same thing, why the different titles? At first, there was only one dental degree—DDS. When Harvard Dental School came along in the late 1800s, however, things changed a little. Harvard degrees are traditionally printed in Latin. So, the DDS degree was translated to CDD (Chirurgae Dentium Doctoris). Harvard knew this to be a bit of a mouthful, so the academic powers that be decided to change it to Dentariae Medicinae Doctor, or DMD. And the rest, as they say, is history. More universities followed Harvard's approach, while others continued awarding the DDS degree.
The American Dental Association has made it clear that they understand the confusion, and has tried to address it. The problem, however, is that there are only a couple of options. One degree or the other, or both, could be eliminated, and a universal degree created. The issue with this, however, is that school pride runs deep. To that end, it would be difficult to convince those 50-plus dental schools to change their degrees. In other words, it's not likely to change anytime soon.
Despite the difference in the names of the degree, we need not worry. Regardless of what comes after a dentist's signature, the goal of dental schools is to educate the most professional and knowledgeable dentists possible.