Many people, including dentists, are confused over the use of the D.D.S. and D.M.D. degrees. Today some dental schools grant a D.D.S. (Doctor of Dental Surgery) degree while others prefer to award the D.M.D. (Doctor of Dental Medicine) degree instead. The training the dentists receive is the same but the name of the degree granted is different. It is left up to the individual schools to choose which degree they will grant.

Originally there was only the D.D.S. degree, which stands for Doctor of Dental Surgery. It was given by independent schools of dentistry that were more like trade or apprenticeship schools and in the beginning were not affiliated with any university.

This all changed in 1867 when Harvard University added a dental school. Harvard University only grants degrees in Latin. Harvard did not adopt the D.D.S. or Doctor of Dental Surgery degree because the Latin translation was Chirurgae Dentium Doctoris or C.D.D. The people at Harvard thought that C.D.D. was cumbersome. A Latin scholar was consulted. The scholar suggested the ancient Medicinae Doctor be prefixed with Dentariae. This is how the D.M.D. or “Dentariae Medicinae Doctor” degree was started.

At the turn of the 20th century, there were 57 dental schools in the U.S. but only Harvard and Oregon awarded the D.M.D. In 1989, 23 of the 66 North American dental schools awarded the D.M.D. In the Northeast, Tufts, Harvard, Boston Univ., Univ of Connecticut, New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry, Pennsylvania Univ., and Temple Univ. all issue D.M.D. degrees to their dental school graduates.

The American Dental Association (A.D.A.) is aware of the public confusion surrounding these degrees. The A.D.A. has tried on several occasions to reduce this confusion. Several sample proposals include: 1) eliminate the D.M.D. degree; 2) eliminate the D.D.S. degree; or 3) eliminate both degrees and invent a brand new degree that every dental school will agree to use. Unfortunately, this confusion may be with us for a long time. When emotional factors like school pride and tradition arise, it is difficult to find a compromise.

Who’s “Right” in this argument about D.M.D. versus D.D.S.?

Dentistry today demands proper diagnosis that takes into consideration all of your patient and dental factors and plans treatment geared to your desires and financial realities. All dental schools now emphasize excellence in both diagnosis and clinical skills and I think most dentists practice with that as their goals as well. You need to choose a dentist whom you feel has done a good job of examining you with all of the tools of modern dentistry, has an office with proper infection control and a “quality care” environment and whom you feel comfortable and confident that their dental team can provide you with the level of dental care you need and want.