DMD vs DDS – A Guide to Dentistry Degrees

Are you uncertain of whether to study a DMD or a DDS? Well, you’re probably not the only one. Many people have scratched their heads about the topic and tried to determine what’s spotting. Although this discussion pops up often, is it something that’s come up recently? The DMD vs DDS debate is not a new one in the field of academic dentistry. The semantic confusion between the DDS degree and the DMD degree has caused interminable discussions and deliberations across the US, generating a lot of unfounded suspicion on the relevance of dentistry degrees, on how they differ, and on which one is best.

As in many cases of public confusion owed to a lack of coordination in the use of terminology, the whole thing started in restricted academic circles. It later went on to generate a nation-wide debate. The simple truth, however, is that there is no real de facto difference between the DMD and DDS degree.

The difference comes from different semantic approaches by two major academic institutions in the US, generated, however, by a more fundamental debate on the actual status of dentistry as an independent science or as a branch of medicine.

What is a D.M.D. in dentistry? What is a D.D.S.? To fully understand the origins of both terms, we will need to take a short trip back in history. After we’ve clarified the meaning and origins of both terms, we will take a look at some key questions people have concerning a career as a dentist, including education, salaries and key steps in building a career.

dmd vs dds

A brief History of Dentistry

The beginnings of dentistry. Dentistry has been practiced since Antiquity, with the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Chinese all providing a bedrock of knowledge, later used by scholars from the Middle Ages. Until the 18th century, dentistry was not regarded as an independent profession. Field surgeons and barbers sometimes performed dental extractions and other operation, but there was no dedicated medical branch for dental afflictions.

This began to change in the 1700’s, with a series of books being written on the topic. This period also marked the rebirth of the concept of oral hygiene, though such knowledge and practices would be limited to the nobility and the upper classes for a long time.

The world’s first dental school was founded by Horace Hayden and Chapin Harris, two dentistry experts, who set up the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery as a part of the Baltimore School of Medicine. With the establishment of the institution, the world’s first academic dentistry degree was also born: the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree.

Harvard’s new standards. The DMD vs DDS debate first started at Harvard University. It is a well-known fact that Harvard’s degrees are only granted in Latin. As such, the title “Doctor of Dental Surgery” had to be translated into “Chirurgiae Dentium Doctoris“, which cannot form the DDS abbreviation.

A lot of thought was given to using “Doctoris Dentium Scientiae” (Doctor of Dental Sciences), which could have been abbreviated as DDS. However, this was eventually rejected on the grounds that dentistry is not a science but a subordinate branch of medical science. After much debate, Harvard finally decided to use “Doctor Medicinae Dentariae” (Doctor of Dental Medicine), to underline that dentistry is a type of medicine and not a stand-alone science, hence DMD.

Further confusion was recently added when the degree of Doctor of Dental Science (DDSc) became widely approved across the US, the title indicating that dentistry is, in fact, a science. As such, it’s very difficult to obkectively take sides in the DMD vs DDS debate.

To date, around one-third of US dental schools use DMD, while the rest have kept DDS as the degree’s title. It is essential to know, however, that both degrees basically offer the same education and training. You might even find more conspicuous curriculum differences between DDS courses in different universities than between DDS and DMD courses.

All this academic confusion should not discourage young graduates to pursue a career as a dentist. In addition to identical education and training, pay grades and benefits are also the same. The world of dentistry is very well aware of the DMS vs DDS situation and it would be very hard to find a place where pursuing a successful career in the field could be affected by this.

As always, your chances rest with your academic performance, your credentials and your actual skill and talent. Or at least they should.

DMD vs DDS – Education and Training

Becoming a dentist is not easy. There are a lot of obstacles you will need to successfully pass in order to get your state license, allowing you to practice dentistry. Before even thinking about DMD vs DDS, there are some very important steps which you should take. In short, the key stages of becoming a dentist are as follows.

1. Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

Before applying to a dental school, you will first need to have a Bachelor’s degree, preferably in a relevant field, like biology or chemistry. During your undergraduate courses, make sure you choose your modules wisely, so as to be as well prepared for the upcoming admission exam as possible.

Recommended courses are Organic Chemistry, Physics, Biochemistry, Biology, Math, and Statistics. Make sure you perform very well in these classes and that you absorb as much knowledge and skills as you possibly can. You should also take a 3D studio art class, if possible, as it will be vital for developing your motor skills. Reconsider applying for dental school if you do not perform well in this area.

2. Pass the Dental Admissions Test (DAT)

The DAT is organized by the American Dental Association (ADA) and it’s a very tough challenge even for well-prepared students. The exam lasts for five hours and will test a wide variety of relevant skills for a career in dentistry, such as knowledge of natural sciences, reasoning, and comprehension.

The competition for places in dental schools is ferocious, with less than 10% of students successfully clearing this hurdle. Moreover, the increasing number of students applying each year will only make it harder to get into dental schools as time passes.

3. Get Admitted to a Dental School

To get admitted to a dental school, you will have to submit applications to your preferred institutions. Make sure your application is very well organized and that you think everything through. The admission process will usually take into account your DAT score, undergraduate academic performance, recommendations, and interview results.

Dental school will consist of didactic and clinical courses and will take a minimum of four years. When you graduate, you will receive either the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree, depending on your school. Remember not to worry, as they are basically the same. Rather than thinking about DMD vs DDS, consider which school would best suit your needs.

During your time in dental school, make sure you get as much practical experience as you can. Try working as an assistant for an experienced dentist, as it will greatly improve your understanding of what actually happens in a dental office.

4. Pass Your Board Exams

The board exams are tests which grant you the license to work as a dentist if successfully passed. They will include both theoretical and practical tests. This is the final and most important obstacle you need to pass in order to become a dentist. The successful completion of this stage will allow you to either become employed in an existing practice or to open up your own practice. The latter will require significant additional investment on your behalf.

5. Become Specialized

Becoming a specialist is the high point of a career in dentistry. ADA recognizes nine main dentistry specializations. Getting a specialization is very important, as it will allow you to further develop your career by working on complicated cases. In addition, the pay that specialized dentists receive is also markedly higher than that of general dentists.

Depending on your skill set and preferences, you can opt for any of the following:

  • Dental public health
  • Endodontics
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics
  • Pediatric Dentistry
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics

DDS vs DMD – Best Dentistry Schools in the US

A very important factor in building a successful career in dentistry is choosing the right school. First of all, always check if the school you are considering is approved by ADA, which is much more important than DMD vs DDS. There are a number of non-accredited institutions out there, and it would be a shame to waste time and money because you didn’t bother to check.

There are a great many good dentistry schools in the US. Depending on your location and budget, any of these could be an option.

  • Los Angeles School of Dentistry (University of California)
  • New York University College of Dentistry
  • Harvard School of Dental Medicine
  • The University of Maryland at Baltimore (UMB), Baltimore College of Dental Surgery
  • The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) Dental School
  • Columbia University, College of Dental Medicine

Check out a complete list here.

DDS vs DMD – Salaries and Benefits

Besides professional recognition and performance, dentists are also known to make a lot of money. The average annual income of a dentist is somewhere around $123 000 a year, which is not bad at all. If you become a successful dentist, there is a good chance you will earn enough to pursue many of your dreams.

A specialist can earn much more than that. So, if you are willing to work very hard and spend long hours in your training, the financial rewards can be extremely satisfying.

DMD vs DDS – Conclusions

In conclusion, the DMD vs DDS debate is not even worth discussing beyond the realm of historical curiosities. The truly relevant questions about a career in dentistry address your education, training, and your capacity to clear all the hurdles on your path to successfully becoming a dentist.


We hope that this piece has helped to clear up a lot of confusion between DMD and DDS. We have laid out that both are more or less similar and what’s more important between choosing either one is that you select the right university. That matters more than whether you choose DMD or DDS. After reading this piece, you should have all the necessary information to feel confident about pursuing your studies in dentistry, as well as looking down the road and pursuing a career in it. Let us know how this piece helped you in your decision making to study and to pursue a career in dentistry.

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