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Dental Suction Dentists Suctioning

A reader named Jeanny recently emailed me the following questions:

Why is it necessary to suction after local anesthetic?
Why is it necessary to suction when doing a filling?
Can blood be involved in both of the above procedures?

I’ll answer the first two questions later on in this article.  In response to the last question, blood can be involved when giving anesthetic and doing fillings, but many times it is not.

First, let’s talk about the two main types of suctions that dentists routinely use.

The Two Main Types of Dental Suctions

Dental SuctionThere are two main types of dental suctions that dentists use: the saliva ejector and the high volume suction.

The saliva ejector does exactly what its name implies; it sucks saliva out of the mouth.  This is the suction pictured at the upper right of this article.  Many times dentists will have the patient close down on this suction so that it can suction away any remaining saliva in the patient’s mouth.

The other main type of dental suction that we use is the high volume suction.  This suction is so strong that the dental assistant simply holds it close to where the dentist is working and it will suck away any nearby debris, much like a strong vacuum cleaner can suck away crumbs without actually touching them.

You can see the high volume dental suction pictured below – try to pardon the lack of glove use by that dentist!

Dental Suction - High Volume

Why Dentists Use a Dental Suction

Now that the introductions are over, let’s talk about some of the different reasons why dentists will use a suction.

For Patient Comfort

Keeping the patient comfortable is a high priority.  In response to Jeanny’s question, we suction after giving anesthetic because the anesthetic has a bitter taste, and most patients prefer to rinse out with water and use the saliva ejector.  Also, if the anesthetic sits in the back of your mouth for too long, it may start to slightly numb the back of your mouth and could give the patient a gagging sensation.

We will also use the suction to make sure that you don’t get too much water in your mouth while we are working.

To Clean Away Any Excess Dental Materials

When a dental hygienist cleans and polishes your teeth, you can get a lot of cleaning paste in your mouth.  We use the suction to help clean all of that away.  Also, when dentists are do amalgam fillings, pieces of the soft amalgam can sometimes fall away from the tooth surface.  We use the suction to help whisk them away.

To Keep The Tooth Dry

During some procedures, such as white fillings, it is important that the tooth stay clean and dry.  The suction helps keep the tooth dry by sucking away any saliva, blood, and water that may have accumulated around the tooth.  If the cavity went below the gum-line, then it’s pretty likely that the gums will bleed during the filling.

To Help the Dentist See

As I mentioned in a previous article about the dental drill, the drill that dentists use to do fillings sprays out a lot of water to keep the tooth cool and clean.  Unfortunately, that water can quickly build up in the mouth and get on the dental mirror.  In order to ensure that the dentist can see the tooth while working on it, it’s necessary to use the high volume suction to suck away all of that debris.

Those are the four main reasons that I came up with as to why dentists use the dental suction.  In conclusion, let’s take a look at a question that I asked my dental hygienist as a child.

Where Does The Stuff Go After It’s Sucked Away?

I remember sitting in the dental chair in Dr. Arnold’s office as a child wondering what happens to all of the stuff that gets sucked down the suction.  Maybe I was hoping that the tooth fairy would somehow be able to save the bad part of my baby tooth that the dentist removed and put it back together once my tooth fell out.  After gathering up the courage to ask, I think I was slightly disappointed by the answer.

After your saliva, tooth debris, etc. gets sucked away, it travels through the suction line to a vacuum separator that will separate out any solids.  After that, your spit makes a journey down the pipes and into the sewer system.

It is now recommended that dentists install amalgam separators in their suction lines to separate out any dental amalgam and keep it from getting into the public sewer systems.


Do you have any questions about why dentists use suction?  Leave a comment below and I’ll try to get back to you.  Thanks for reading!

Dental History Museum
©Derek L Miller/

You know how when you go on vacation, there’s always that one place that stands out as the pinnacle of your trip? Well, today was one of the high points of our vacation for me.

The National Museum of DentistryNot long ago, I learned about the existence of a National Museum of Dentistry located in Baltimore, Maryland. Since I’m currently on vacation with my family in Maryland, I thought it would be a great place to visit.

We parked a few blocks away in what appeared to be a rough section of downtown Baltimore.  We ran into some interesting people on our way to the National Museum of Dentistry, but once we arrived, it was worth it!

We brought our young children with us and were surprised to find that there were several small exhibits geared toward children.  There was a pretend dental office for role playing, an area with many children’s books about visiting the dentist, and a coloring station.  With the help of these exhibits, we were able to stay in the museum longer than we might have been able to otherwise.

The museum is relatively small, but the exhibits are fairly comprehensive.  There were interesting historical tidbits as well as information about the importance of dental hygiene and avoiding harmful substances.  For a dental fanatic like me, this place was intriguing to say the least.  Here’s a small sample of the many things that I was able to see today.

Pictures from the National Museum of Dentistry

Pointed Teeth Bantu Indian Tribe

This friendly looking man above is actually a sculpture (I know, he almost looks real.) Anyways, he was a member of the Bantu Indian tribe in Africa. They used to file down their front teeth in an attempt to look intimidating to those around them.

Old Toothpaste at the Dental Museum
Here’s a bunch of old toothpaste containers that were on display. It’s interesting to see how far we’ve come in this area.

Old Dental Toy Game
Supposedly, this dental toy was supposed to inspire young minds to become dentists when they grew up. Perhaps this toy was the reason that there were so many dentists that graduated during the 1970s.

George Washington's Teeth
These teeth are replicas of George Washington’s dentures.  It turns out that they really weren’t made of wood, but ivory.

G.V. Black - The Father of Modern Dentistry
Here is a replica of G.V. Black’s dental office.  For those of you who aren’t aware, G.V. black is considered the “Father of Modern Dentistry.”  I was tempted to jump over the barricade and go put my arm around him for a photo, but he didn’t seem very personable – I couldn’t even get him to crack a smile.

Fluoride at the National Museum of Dentistry
This post wouldn’t be complete without a picture of some fluoride.  The photo on the left proves that fluoride is cockroach poison.  The upper right photo is a bottle of stannous fluoride that dentists used in the 1950’s in a study.  The photo at the bottom left is an at-home water fluoridation unit that households could purchase to fluoridate their own water.

Was the National Museum of Dentistry Worth It?

I really enjoyed the National Museum of Dentistry.  I learned a lot and they had a lot of interactive displays that kept me engaged.

You might think that this museum would only be fascinating to someone who works in the dental field, but anyone who enjoys history would probably find it fascinating.  So if you’re a history buff, you’d probably enjoy taking a trip to the National Museum of Dentistry if you’re ever in the Baltimore area.

Do you have any questions or comments about the National Museum of Dentistry?  Go ahead and leave them in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

My Final Exam Week Dental School
©Chad McDermott/

After three years of lectures at dental school, my test-taking days are numbered.  This is my last final exam week!

It seems like just yesterday that I started dental school and was thrown into an endless routine of cramming for exam after exam.  In just three more days, I will break free from that routine!

The rest of my dental school career (August 2011- May 2012) will Dental School Final Examsbe primarily spent in the clinic, which means that I won’t have to take any more lectures with final exams.

I’ll Be Back In a Week

Obviously, I’ll be spending most of my spare time studying this week, which means that I won’t be posting any new articles to or answering any comments until Friday or Saturday.

If you don’t know how you’ll work up the courage to take care of your teeth this week without any new dental-related articles to read, go ahead and take a look at the archives.

Have a great week!

ADA Seal of Acceptance Dental Products
ADA Seal - Accepted by The American Dental Association
The ADA Seal of Acceptance

The American Dental Association recently launched a new website at  It is a re-vamped site that discusses the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance.

They even made an easy-to-access list of every single product that has received the ADA seal.  I’d like to think that maybe they were jealous of the full list of products receiving the ADA Seal that I published a few months ago!

The new website has many new features.  For example, if you’ve ever wanted to know what it takes for a product to get the ADA Seal of Acceptance, the ADA now provides downloadable PDF files that let you see exactly what is required for a product to gain the seal in a certain category.

For example, if you’ve ever wondered what it takes for a sugar-free chewing gum to get the ADA Seal, you can find out by viewing this PDF file.

You can view and download all of the other requirements from the ADA Seal: Guidelines for Product Acceptance Page here.

ADA Seal Videos

There is also a video page that contains many videos about the seal, including the whole process that a product has to go through to obtain the ADA Seal:

ADA Seal Videos Page

ADA Seal Product Comparison Page

ADA Seal Product Comparison Page

Another feature that I found interesting was that the ADA now has a full description of all products that are given the ADA Seal.  This allows them to provide a compare page where you can compare the many different products that have received the ADA Seal.  For example, if you wanted to compare Colgate Total to Crest Pro Health, you can view this page which I included as a screenshot to the right of this text so you can get an idea for how the tool works.

Questions or Comments?

The site contains many other features that I didn’t mention here, but you can check them all out by visiting the new ADA Seal site at

I think that this resource is a great addition to the ADA’s new website.  It allows consumers to fully research products with the ADA Seal and to fully understand why a product has received the seal.

Before this new site, it seemed that consumers had to blindly accept the fact that a product received the seal.

Do you have any questions or comments about this new resource from the American Dental Association?  I’d love to hear what you have to say and answer any questions you may have in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

Crazy Dentist Illegal Dentist
©Igor Shootov/

Oral Answers LinksThere’s been a few interesting stories about dentists in the news over the past few weeks. Since I haven’t done an “OA Links” post lately, I decided to share them with you in this edition of Oral Answers Links.

A Fighting Dentist

Yesterday afternoon, a dentist near Daytona Beach, Florida was taken to jail for fighting with an 85 year old patient.  He had just made the elderly woman a removable partial denture and was adjusting it.

The woman was unhappy with the denture and took it out of her mouth and threw it at the dentist and demanded a refund.  The dentist had pretty quick reflexes and caught the denture, at which point the woman charged him and tried to grab the denture.  They played tug-of-war with the denture all the way down the hall and then the woman bit the dentist’s hand and tried to open the door to leave.

The dentist shut the door, not allowing the woman to leave.  She then jumped up on the receptionist’s desk to climb out of the window.  I don’t want to spoil the ending, but you can read the full article over at the Daytona Beach News-Journal to find out what happened.

UPDATE: Here’s another article with a picture of the denture in question.

An Elderly Dentist

At 90 years old, Dr. Paul Kincaid is the oldest practicing dentist in the state of Kansas.  He’s been practicing for over 66 years.  He said that he did retire one day, but then came back to work the next day.  He has an interesting story, and I really enjoyed reading it.  He obviously enjoys what he does, and I developed a lot of respect for him by reading the article.

One thing that stood out to me was that for only $3,000, he was able to set up his own dental practice over a shoe store.  If I could set up a practice for only $3,000, I might have the courage to do it right after graduation.  Nowadays, it would take several hundred thousand dollars to set up a dental practice.

Using the dentist license verification search that I posted a few months ago, I was able to track down Dr. Kincaid’s license and found that he was issued a license to practice dentistry on August 16, 1945 —nearly 66 years ago!

An Illegal Dentist

Illegal dentistry is becoming more popular in the United States during the recession.  This article describes an illegal dental clinic located in Mesquite, Texas.  It is located in a house in a residential area and has a neon “OPEN” sign.  Patients have reported that there are at least 18 illegal dental clinics set up in the state of Texas.

In this case, a dentist from Mexico came over the border and opened up shop.  Without any regulation or licensing, getting services from illegal dentists can be quite risky.  The article describes a man who they call Fred who wasted a lot of money and ended up with a lot more dental problems that now need to be addressed elsewhere.

Unfortunately, it seems to be difficult to shut down these illegal dental clinics.

Any Thoughts?

Do you have any thoughts, questions, or comments on the above stories?  I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

Dental School Studying Finals Week

Life has been pretty crazy over the past several days!  This week is finals week in dental school – I’ll be back to my regular posting schedule next Monday.

It’s hard to believe that three years have already gone by.  The 4th year students are heading out to their residency programs, specialty programs, or straight into the real world to practice general dentistry.  That will be me in just one more year, although we’re still not sure where we’ll end up!

Guest Article on Dental Fear Central

Dental School Final ExamsSeveral weeks ago, I wrote a fairly long article for Dental Fear Central that talks about what exactly happens when you get a filling from your dentist.

The article is broken into three sections, so if you’re really addicted to reading my oral health posts three times each week, you can fulfill your Oral Answers craving by reading the first part on Monday, the second on Wednesday, and the last part on Friday.

Unanswered Questions

I should also mention that I’ve got a LOT of questions in my inbox that I need to answer.  If you’ve asked a question, please be patient and I’ll get back to you sometime next week at the latest.  I did notice that my spam filter caught a bunch of emails from the past couple of months, but I’ll get them I’ll answered when I’m done with finals!

Have a great week!

The Dental Office Smell

After getting a job at a dental office, a woman who goes by the name of W wrote, “Ya know that dental office smell? Well, imagine working at one. You come home and that smell is stuck to you like white on rice…It’s in my hair. It’s on my hands… I can tell you I washed my hands over 100 times today. Maybe more… And I can still smell dental office on them.”

Dental Office SmellThe dental office smell has been described by many internet users as smelling something like:

  • Antiseptic
  • Mint
  • Latex
  • A fake hospital (I’m not quite sure what that is)
  • Cloves
  • Air (whatever that smells like!)

The dental office smell: some people hate it, and some crazy people like it.  So where exactly does that smell come from?

What Causes the Dental Office Smell

As far as I can tell, the dental office smell actually is a medley of many different odors that can be divided into three main odor-causing categories:

1 – Aromas That Come From Dental Products

Clove Oil Is a Culprit of the Dental Office SmellIn dentistry, we use a lot of funny smelling materials on people’s teeth.  When you get a temporary crown made, we basically combine a strong smelling liquid and a powder to make acrylic.  Acrylic is also used to construct many dentures.

Dentists put in fillings that contain eugenol – commonly known as clove oil – in people’s teeth.  Many people say that clove oil is one of the major smells found in dental offices.  An interesting study found that clove oil invokes sensations of anxiety and fear in people who dislike the dentist while people who don’t mind the dentist think that clove oil smells “pleasant.”

Another strong odor that occurs at the dental office is when you have a root canal done.  The dentist uses disinfectants in the canal — many times bleach is used, which has a really strong smell when squirted into a tooth!  Other pulp treatments may require the use of different chemicals such as formocresol and metacresylacetate (Cresatin).  Those chemicals can quickly make a dental office smell like formaldehyde.

2 – Scents From Cleaning Products

Infection control in dentistry is very important.  In fact, dentists use many infection-control products that have their own various smells.  Here’s a few that may leave a lingering smell in the dental office:

  • Antibacterial soaps
  • Disinfection wipes used to clean have an alcohol smell
  • Gloves – some people swear that the dental office smell is caused by gloves.
  • When we sterilize dental instruments, we put them in what is basically a high-pressure oven that kills every form of life.  This process can cause certain smells to gradually nestle their way into the walls of the dental practice.
  • Glutaraldehyde can be used to clean products that can’t be heat-sterilized.

3 – Odors That Come From Dental Procedures

One of the main components of the dental smell is something that I like to call tooth dust.  This is that smell that permeates the air when you get your tooth drilled for any reason (such as a filling, crown, or root canal.)

The smell of tooth dust can be lessened by using lots of water during the drilling and having the dental assistant hold the suction as close to the tooth as possible.

Although worse smells can come from infected nerves inside the tooth, I’ve never smelled those odors lingering in the dental office, so I figured I wouldn’t spend too much time on them.

Have You Noticed the Dental Smell?

I was talking with a few of my classmates during downtime in our emergency dental clinic at school and a few of them said they don’t notice anything.  One classmate commented, “It’s the fluoride gel.”  She thinks the dental office smells like a fruity fluoride treatment.  Personally, I think it’s the tooth dust smell.

In any case, many dental offices around the country are turning to scented oils and waxes to try to infuse a more pleasant aroma into the dental office.

Have you ever noticed the dental office smell?  Do you like it?  Hate it?  I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

Products with American Dental Association Seal
©Natalia Gaak NWH/

Not many people are aware that the American Dental Association keeps an updated list on their website of all of the dental products that have received the ADA Seal of Acceptance.

You can view and print the entire list of ADA Accepted dental products here in PDF format.

When people think of the ADA Seal, the first product category to come to mind is usually toothpastes.  However, the toothpaste category came in second place.  There are more than twice as many mouth rinses than toothpastes that carry the ADA Seal.

Below you can find a list of all the categories and how many products in each category have received the ADA Seal of Acceptance.

The 15  Categories of Dental Products that carry the ADA Seal

ADA Seal of Acceptance1 – Mouth Rinses.  143 different brands of mouthwash qualified for the ADA Seal.

2 – Toothpastes.  65 toothpastes currently carry the ADA Seal.

3 – Fluoride Mouth Rinses.  44 brands of fluoride mouthwashes qualified for the ADA Seal.

4 – Toothbrushes.  34 different toothbrushes received the ADA Seal.

5 – Floss.  30 different brands of floss qualified for the ADA Seal.

Even if you’re using ADA approved floss, you can still make these 10 mistakes when you floss.

6 – Chewing Gum.  5 different brands of chewing gums qualified for the ADA Seal.

7 – Fluoride Gels.  4 brands of fluoride gel qualified for the ADA Seal.

8 – Denture Adhesives.  3 denture adhesives qualified for the ADA Seal.

9 – Water Filters.  2 water filters carry the ADA Seal of Acceptance.  I wondered why a water filter would get the ADA Seal.  It turns out that the PUR water filters reduce levels of contaminants in water while not reducing the level of tooth-protecting fluoride.

10 – Canker Sore Pain Relief Ointments.  2 canker sore pain relief ointments qualified for the ADA Seal.

11 – Plaque Disclosing Mouth Rinses.  Only 1 plaque disclosing mouth rinse, Listerine Agent Cool Blue Tinting Rinse, qualified for the ADA Seal.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it was deserved as Listerine Agent Cool Blue does not disclose plaque; it simply tints all of the teeth blue.

To see what my teeth looked like after rinsing with Listerine Agent Cool Blue, read the article Listerine Agent Cool Blue Doesn’t Disclose Plaque.  If you want to find plaque disclosing solutions that actually show you where the plaque is on your teeth, read the article How Plaque Disclosing Tablets Can Help You Brush Better.

12 – Denture Pain Relief Ointment.  Only 1 denture pain relief ointment, Benzodent Analgesic Denture Ointment, qualified for the ADA Seal.

13 – Emergency Tooth Preservation Products.  Only one product got the ADA Seal in this category, Save-A-Tooth.

To learn more about how to use the Save-A-Tooth System, read the article What to Do When Your Permanent Tooth Gets Knocked Out.

14 – Interdental Cleaners.  Only one brand of interdental cleaners, Stim-U-Dent Plaque Removers, qualified for the ADA Seal.

15 – Dentist-Dispensed Teeth Whitening Gels.  Only 1 brand of teeth whitening gel, Opalescence Whitening Gel 10%, qualified for the ADA Seal of Acceptance.

Does the ADA Seal Mean Everything?

As I stated above, there are many great plaque disclosing tablets/solutions that don’t have the ADA Seal while the one that does only tints your teeth without showing you where the plaque is!

Usually the ADA Seal indicates that a product actually does what it is supposed to do (is effective) and is safe.  You can read more about the ADA Seal in this previous article: The ADA Seal of Acceptance: Everything You Need to Know.

Do you have any questions, comments, or concerns about the ADA Seal or products that have received it?  I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

Best Place to Start a Dental Practice
©Gregory James Van Raalte/

Disclaimer: This isn’t my ordinary oral health-related article… But, if you’re interested in some of the things that dentists look at when choosing an area to practice, you may enjoy it!

We took a trip up to Vermont on Thursday and have been up here in the Burlington area for the past few days – that’s why I didn’t write a post yesterday!

Vermont Sunset Over Lake ChamplainMy wife and I are still pretty undecided on where we want to live after dental school.  My wife is from Boston and I’m from Detroit.  We think we’d be happy living anywhere from Michigan up to Maine.  Burlington, Vermont was named the #1 place to raise a family a couple of years ago and Vermont appeals to us, so we thought we’d check it out.

We’ve had a lot of fun driving around the Lake Champlain Islands, going on a Ben & Jerry’s tour, and swimming a lot at the hotel.  It’s been a much-needed getaway from dental school for a few days!

How Dentists Choose Where to Practice

There are a number of things that dentists take into consideration when trying to figure out where to practice dentistry.  Some people want to practice in the same city where they grew up or near family.

One key consideration that most dental students look at is what is known as the dentist to population ratio.  I found an article that listed the average national dentist to population ratio as 1 dentist per 1,851 people.  I even found a map showing the ratios of each state.

Some further research into Vermont helped me find this 2009 Vermont Department of Health Dentist Survey (PDF) which shows that Chittenden County, Vermont (its largest county and home of Burlington) has 125 dentists.  With its population of 156,545, that gives it a ratio of 1 dentist per 1252 people — a lot more dentists than the average place!

Does the Dentist to Population Ratio Really Matter?

An interesting article by Edgar Radjabli called Why the Dentist to Population Ratio does Not Tell the Whole Story points out that what really matters is whether or not the people living in a particular area go to the dentist.  Basically, it doesn’t matter if there are 3,000 people per dentist if only 100 out of those 3,000 people are actually going to the dentist.

In my opinion, a good dentist can set up practice anywhere and have a successful practice.  My wife and I have realized that a lot of the “good places to live” already have a high number of dentists.  Although the dentist to population ratio is a good indicator of how difficult it may be to find patients, as long as you care about your patients and really want to help them, word will get around and you will have a successful dental practice.


We have enjoyed Vermont, but we’re still not sure where we’ll end up.  We want to keep researching places and probably make a few more visits to potential areas soon so that we can figure out where to go when I graduate in May of 2012.

Do you have anything to add?  I’ll be back with my regular oral health post on Monday.  Thanks for reading!

How to Get a Copy of Your Dental Records
©Snezana Ignjatovic/

Many people are curious about the information contained in their dental records.  Sometimes people may just want to have a copy of their dental records to see what procedures they have had done.

Others, like Elaine Benes from Seinfeld,  just want to know what their medical professional has written about them in their medical records.

Whatever your reason, you should be able to easily obtain a copy of your dental records from your dentist.

How to Get a Copy of Your Dental Records

Dental RecordsThe best way to get a copy of your dental records is to simply ask your dental office for your dental records. According to HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) dentists are required to give patients a copy of their dental records.

Also, state law may require the dentist to give you a copy of your dental records.

Section 1.1.B of the American Dental Association’s Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct states:

“A dentist has the ethical obligation on request of either the patient or the patient’s new dentist to furnish in accordance with applicable law, either gratuitously or for nominal cost, such dental records or copies or summaries of them, including dental X-rays or copies of them, as will be beneficial for the future treatment of that patient. This obligation exists whether or not the patient’s account is paid in full.”

FYI- You can find a complete copy of the ADA’s Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct here as a PDF file.

Will Your Dentist Charge You for Your Dental Records?

It depends.  Some dentists will charge a fee to give you a copy of your dental records and others will do it for free.

From what I’ve heard from patients that bring their dental records to the dental school, the normal fee if a dentist does charge for records is somewhere between $10 and $30.


If you want a copy of your dental records, just ask your dentist.  If your dentist wants an unreasonable fee or is unwilling to give you a copy of your dental records, then you can get in touch with your state dental society.  Here’s a full listing of the contact information for each state dental society.  Keep in mind that the definition of “nominal fee” can vary widely.

OA Links: Dental Work Expensive
©Lisa S./

I’m at the beginning of what should be a pretty tough semester! I have nine classes on top of seeing patients four days a week.  I’ll try to keep writing three days a week, but if I miss one here or there,  know that it’s because I’m busy studying!

Why Is Dental Care so Expensive?

Oral Answers LinksI discovered a really interesting blog over the past week written by Dr. Dean Brandon, a pediatric dentist from Alabama.  If you have young kids, he has a lot of great, accurate information on his blog, Cyber Dentist.  One article I really enjoyed was Why Does Dentistry Cost So Much? Dr. Brandon boiled it down to two main reasons: time and expertise.

Don’t Swallow Your Toothbrush

This was one of the most interesting dental-related articles I’ve read in a long time.  A 15 year old girl swallowed her seven inch toothbrush while running up the stairs.  She started choking and her brother tried to pull it out, but her strong gag reflex made the toothbrush disappear down into her stomach.  It took a hospital visit and general anesthesia, but they got the toothbrush out!  It’s a good reminder to not run with objects in your mouth.

Bad Oral Hygiene Can Give You a Heart Attack

Bacteria from your mouth can increase the risk of blood clots and heart attack.  A study done in the United Kingdom adds to the evidence that bad oral hygiene can be bad for your whole body.  Dr Howard Jenkinson, professor of Oral Microbiology at Bristol’s School of Oral and Dental Science, presented the findings.  He said the following: “Poor dental hygiene can lead to bleeding gums, providing bacteria with an escape route into the bloodstream, where they can initiate blood clots leading to heart disease.”

West Virginia Children Not Seeing Dentist… Why?

The Weirton Daily Times in Weirton, West Virginia had an interesting article about dental visits.  They reported that 43% of children in school that have been seen through Marshall University’s public health dental program had untreated dental decay.  What I found most interesting was that nearly 90% of the kids had dental insurance — they simply weren’t going to the dentist.  The program’s coordinator, Bobbi Muto said, “I truly believe it’s an educational thing.  I don’t think we place a value on dental care and dental services like we should.”

I think I agree with Bobbi.  Most people don’t understand how important oral health is to your overall health.  That’s one of the reasons that I started blogging about dentistry: to help more people understand the importance of keeping your mouth in good shape.

This article reminded me of a post I wrote a month or so ago: Why Don’t You Go to the Dentist?

Questions or Comments?

Do you have any questions or comments on these articles?  Please feel free to leave them below in the comments section.  Thanks for reading!

Do You Lie to Your Dentist?
©Tyler Olson/

There are many good dental articles on the Internet, and I would like to share them with you every few weeks in a series I will call, Oral Answers Links.

Oral Answers LinksI won’t interrupt my regular Monday/Wednesday/Friday posting schedule for these links, I’ll try to post them on Tuesdays or Thursdays.  If you have any feedback on this feature, please leave a comment below.

Angie’s List Dental Survey – 32% of patients report sometimes lying to their dentist when they’re asked about oral hygiene practices. A good thing about the survey was that about 80% of the respondents say that they have “great trust” in their dentist.

20 Worst Drinks In America – Men’s health did a feature a few months ago that I’ve been wanting to share.  They show pictures of the 20 “worst” drinks in America and then show a shocking picture of each one next to some junk food to illustrate just how much sugar is hidden in those drinks.

Neglecting Your Teeth May Lead to Alzheimer’s Disease – A recent study done at New York University shows that gum disease (an inflammation of the gums) may lead to an inflammation of the brain, leading to Alzehimer’s Disease.  Obviously, much more research will be needed in this area to confirm the results, but I always find it interesting to hear confirmed reports of how closely linked the mouth and body are.

Chewbaru - Photo Courtesy of R. Steven Rainwater
The dentures on Chewbaru’s roof

Europe is Regulating Online Teeth Whitening More Closely – It seems like you can buy any strength of teeth whitening gel online for a cheap price.  Some contain peroxide levels that are considered unsafe for your gums.  Europe is regulating this to hopefully increase the safety of the teeth whitening gels that are available to consumers.   Should the USA follow suit, or should consumers be allowed to choose unsafe gels without knowing the consequences?

Chewbaru the Mobile Masticator – A few years ago, a man had a dream to build a car that represented the mouth.  He purchased some dentures on eBay and eventually decorated a Subaru from the 90’s with a medley of dental-related items.

He even installed wireless infrared cameras so he could watch people’s reactions to the car and perhaps catch those who would vandalize his work of art.

You can read his story at the above link and see a lot more pictures of the Subaru turned into Chewbaru.

If you have any questions or comments about the above-mentioned articles, go ahead and leave a comment below!  Thanks for reading!

Rubber Dental Dam Advantages

Have you ever gone to the dentist and had them put a big rubber blanket over your mouth?

In 1864 (nearly 150 years ago), a New York City dentist by the name of S.C. Barnum invented the rubber dam for use in dentistry.  He was looking for an easy way to isolate the particular teeth that he wanted to work on during procedures.

The rubber dam is simply a thin sheet of rubber that is clamped around the tooth or teeth that will be worked on.  There are many advantages to using a rubber dam, some of which are listed below.

9 Advantages of Dental Rubber Dams

Pink Rubber Dental Dam1 – The dentist is better able to visualize the tooth or teeth that he is repairing.  By providing a contrasting background, the rubber dam makes the tooth easier to visualize.  If the dentist can see better, chances are you’ll get a better filling.

2 – It helps keep the tooth dry.  Amalgam fillings aren’t as good if they are used in a wet tooth.  Bonding composite fillings to the tooth also doesn’t work very well if it is wet.  So rubber dams lend to the success of such procedures by keeping teeth dry.

3 – It protects the patient in several ways:

  • It prevents the patient from breathing in the debris associated with drilling teeth.
  • It protects the patient from irritating chemicals used in dentistry such as those used to disinfect a root canal or the acids used to etch teeth to prepare them to be filled with a composite resin filling
  • It protects the patient’s tongue and cheek from the dental drill

4 – It helps isolate the tooth from the bacteria in the mouth – this is especially important in a root canal treatment and when restoring very large cavities that are close to the pulp.  It is important to keep the pulp shielded away from the many bacteria that live in your mouth.

Green Rubber Dental Dam - Photo Courtesy of Produnis

5 – It can shorten the duration of a procedure. When using a rubber dam, there isn’t a tongue constantly in the way and it is easier for the dentist to drill with no other distractions in the mouth visible.  This increases the dentist’s efficiency, which means you can leave the dental office sooner!

An interesting side effect of rubber dam is that they discourage the patient from talking.  If the dentist wants to get a rubber dam on you as soon as you walk into the office, it could be a sign that you’re pretty talkative!

6 – It can calm down a patient. With the rubber dam on, it may not feel like the dentist is really inside your mouth.  It kind of adds a layer of separation between your body and the dentist.  This is helpful for patients who become anxious during procedures.

7  – It can help in the administration of nitrous oxide (this is especially true with children ) since it forces the patient to primarily breathe through their nose.

8 – It protects the dentist and dental assistants from any diseases that the patient may have. Did you know that if a dentist drills on one of your teeth for 30 seconds, the dentist is exposed to as much bacteria as he or she would be if you sneezed right in their face?  Here’s the source for that fact. For more on how dental dams prevent the spread of infection from the dental patient to others, here’s a study, another one, and yet another one.

Rubber Dental Dam Isolating Six Front Teeth

9 – Rubber dams give you a higher quality tooth restorationA study by Dr. Gordon Christsenen concluded that rubber dams allow the dentist to perform better, thus creating a higher-quality restored tooth in the end.

Why Some Dentists Don’t Use Rubber Dams

Rubber Dental Dam Clamps
Rubber dam clamps that can be used to anchor the dam around various teeth.

Some dentists think that rubber dams take too much time to place or that the patients dislike them.  To be honest, it does take some time to put a rubber dam on a patient.  You have to punch a few holes in the rubber dam for each tooth and put a clamp around the tooth to stabilize the dam.  To make sure that the clamp doesn’t fall down the patient’s throat when you put it in, you have to wrap floss around it.  Finally, you have to stretch the rubber dam around the clamp and floss it between all of the teeth that you want to be visible through the rubber dam.

At my dental school, they usually require us to put a rubber dam on our patients when we are doing fillings.  After doing this so often, it has become easy to put a rubber dam on a patient.  Plus, there is usually a period of a few minutes that the dentist has to wait for the anesthesia to begin working.  Those few minutes are the perfect opportunity to put a rubber dam on, and as I mentioned above, using a rubber dam can shorten the duration of a procedure overall.

Do You Like Rubber Dams?

Have you ever had a rubber dam?  Was it a good experience?  Some patients I’ve talked to say they like it, and others find it uncomfortable.

If you have any questions or comments about rubber dams, please leave them below in the comments section.

Dentist Infection Control Dental Office
©Tyler Olson/

I’m a bit of a germophobe.  Learning in my microbiology class at dental school that there are literally millions of bacteria living on me has helped me cope a little bit, but I still like things to be clean.

Autoclave For Sterilizing Dental InstrumentsWhen I was a kid, I used to love watching the dentist open a new packet of dental instruments to use on me.  I always thought that the instruments were brand new and were being used for the first time on me!  I was wrong.  The staff at the dental office puts the dirty instruments in an ultrasonic bath to remove the debris.  Then, they bag the instruments and put them in an autoclave.  Dentists must test their autoclave periodically to ensure that it is working properly to sterilize the instruments.

But how do you really know if your dentist practices good infection control in his or her office?

Ways to Find Out If Your Dental Office Practices Good Infection Control

1 – Make sure that the dentist and assistant use the following infection transmission barriers:

  • Gloves
  • Protective eyewear – not just for them, but for your eyes as well
  • Face mask (If your dentist sneezes, it won’t let anything out!)
  • A disposable gown or a lab coat

You might not think all of those things are necessary, however dentists who neglect these small things may also neglect the important things like completely sanitizing the dental chair and surrounding area before you are seated.

2 – Look for the dentist/assistant/hygienist to open the dental instruments after you arrive in the operatory. If they are already open when you arrive, they are no longer sterile.  Once the instruments are opened, they are exposed to the surrounding environment.  This includes bacteria found in the air and bacteria from people who may be nearby.


3 – Look for hard-to-clean surfaces to be covered with disposable plastic barriers and for surfaces in the operatory to be disinfected after each patient. This includes the handles on the dental light, the suction and air/water hoses, x-ray unit heads, and the computer keyboard and mouse.  In addition, at my dental school, we provide a disposable head rest cover and we put a plastic barrier on the panel that controls the chair’s movements.  We also put a disposable covering on the countertop.

4 – Make sure that all needles and syringes are discarded in a puncture-resistant sharps container. Usually, these are red or white.  They can be mounted on the wall or sitting in the room.  If you don’t see one, you could ask your dentist or hygienist if they have one.  If they do not, they could be endangering many people by putting infected needles into the public garbage system.

Sharps Container - Photo Courtesy of William Rafti

5 – Notice whether they discard all infectious waste in appropriate containers. Dental procedures that are of a surgical nature can produce a significant amount of potentially hazardous waste.  In addition to the sharps container mentioned above, a dental office should also have an infectious waste container to discard items that were used surgically or are otherwise considered potentially infectious.

6 – Find out whether they heat sterilize (also called “using an autoclave” – this is pictured at the top of the article) all reusable instruments and miscellaneous dental items. You may have to ask one of the staff to find out whether this is being done.  You may also want to ask when they last tested their autoclave to ensure it was indeed sterilizing the instruments properly (this is done on a routine basis  in most offices).

7 – Look for dental staff to change gloves and clean their hands before and after seeing each patient. Make sure your dentist is changing gloves when he or she comes in to see you.  Many dentists keep gloves in the operatory so that you will see them put them on when they come in.  Also, even though gloves are worn, it is necessary for the dental professional to wash or sanitize his or her hands after seeing each patient as it is easy to transfer something from the glove to the hand or vice-versa when changing gloves.

8 – Ask them about their infection control policies. Some dental offices will display their infection control protocols.  This might be seen in the form of a sign on the wall or a poster or pamphlet in the waiting room.  If the information is not readily apparent, find out by asking questions.  Your health is important and any dental office with proper infection control policies in place will be happy to share this information with you to put your mind at ease.

A Quick Quiz

Below you’ll find a picture showing a dental procedure.  Can you spot the infection control violations?

Improper Dental Infection Control | Photo Courtesy of Erik Christensen
A Photo Demonstrating Improper Infection Control in Dentistry

Answer(s): The dental assistant is not wearing gloves, all three aren’t wearing protective eye wear, there aren’t disposable plastic sleeves around the suction the assistant is holding, they aren’t wearing lab coats or gowns, and they aren’t wearing face masks.


Many dentists try their hardest to keep their patients from getting sick after they visit them.  There are some who need improvement in this area.  Hopefully the list above will help you gauge how your dentist is doing.

If you are nervous or unsure about the cleanliness of anything, don’t hesitate to ask your dentist.  You deserve a clean office and sterile instruments.  A dental office should be a place to prevent and cure disease, not catch it!

Do you have any questions or comments about dental infection control?  Please leave them in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

Dental Student Working on Mannequin
©Anna Jurkovska/

Many people are skeptical about visiting dental schools to receive dental care because they are worried about a lack of experience on the student’s part.

Dental Student Working on a MannequinI won’t lie: dental student’s are not as experienced as most general dentists.  However, that doesn’t mean that the quality of care is any lower.  Dental students spend much more time with each patient to compensate for their lack of experience.  I think this puts our quality of care on par with private dental practices.

As a first and second year dental student, I had the opportunity to take a variety of hands-on classes that allowed me to practice and perfect my clinical skills.

The Hands-On Courses I Took Before Seeing Patients In Dental School

Here’s a list of the hands-on courses that I took in dental school before seeing real humans in the clinic.  We also had regular lectures in these classes where we learned about the academic theories involved in each of these subjects.

Introduction to Dentistry – In this class we got acquainted with our fake dental patient, which consisted of a plastic head with a metal jaw and two full arches of teeth.  This was attached to a body that would recline in a normal position (see picture.)  We also drilled and filled our first tooth with amalgam.  The results weren’t too encouraging, as none of us had much experience at drilling teeth.  We also learned how to take impressions of each other’s teeth (we did this on classmates) and then made mouthguards and custom whitening trays.

The Plastic Teeth Dental Students Work On
Here’s the plastic teeth I worked on my first two years of dental school

Amalgam Restorations – This was our first class where we really learned how to drill.  I remember staying late into the night several times learning the different techniques for drilling into various teeth.  We drilled and filled dozens of teeth with amalgam.  We also applied medications to teeth where we drilled pretty deep to remove all of the “decay.”

Composite Restorations – This was our second class dealing with fillings.  We filled every type of tooth with almost every imaginable type of composite filling.  We did composite veneers, which can repair teeth that have been chipped or stained.  We also filled diastemas (a space between the two front teeth that many people find less-than-attractive.)

Occlusion – In this class we learned all about how the jaws fit together.  We got to take impressions of our fellow students’ teeth, pour plaster stone into the impressions to make dental casts, and then mount the casts on articulators.  An articulator is just a simple machine on which you can mount dental casts.  It simulates the human jaw movements.  It is useful for figuring out the right shape and size to make crowns so that they fit in with the rest of the teeth and aren’t too high or low.

Dental Student Working on a Mannequin
Here I am working on my plastic patient. I drilled my first tooth in September of 2008. This picture was during my last practical exam in June 2010.

Dentures I – In this class we had a fake patient without any teeth.  We got to take impressions of their mouth, make plaster casts and mount them on articulators.  Then, we ended up making a set of dentures.  My favorite part of this class was that we got divided into small groups and we were assigned a patient who couldn’t afford dentures but needed them.  Then, under the supervision of a dentist, we were able to make a set of dentures for this patient.  I still remember how happy our patient was with his new set of dentures.

Dentures II – In this class, we learned how to make removable partial dentures.  This type of dentures is ideal for patients who are missing a few to several teeth.  Removable partial dentures are much more stable than regular full dentures since they have teeth to anchor them down and support them.

Pediatric Dentistry – This was a fun lab.  We got a small set of fake teeth to work on that were child-sized.  We did amalgam restorations and made a space maintainer.  The second part of this course involved working on each other.  We got to do cleanings on each other, do fluoride treatments, and apply sealants to our classmates’ teeth.

Fixed Partial Dentures I – In this class we learned the techniques for preparing teeth to receive crowns.  We also learned how to make temporary crowns, which the patient receives as an interim crown before their permanent crown is made by the dental lab.

Fixed Partial Dentures II – In this course, we went beyond the basic single-unit crowns and started cutting teeth to receive bridges.  We also learned how to make temporary bridges to give to the patient so that they can chew normally before their permanent crown gets made by the dental lab.  We also expanded our prosthodontic skill-set by cutting more challenging crown preparations for different situations.  One of my favorite parts of this course was cutting teeth for a bridge.

Fixed Partial Dentures III – In our final prosthodontic lab class, we cut teeth for veneers.  Veneers can be used to cover stained teeth, or teeth that are slightly chipped.  Also, if someone has a large space between their two front teeth, veneers can be used to fill in that space, giving that person a better overall appearance.

Local Anesthesia – In this class we got to learn about all the different types of injections and injection techniques to numb patients so that they don’t feel the procedures that we do on them.  We got to practice on our fellow classmates…  Now I know exactly what many of the injections feel like when given by inexperienced dental students!

Restorative Dentistry Review – Since we hadn’t done fillings in quite a while (our amalgam and composite labs were at the beginning of dental school), we had a nice review course this past semester where we got to do all sorts of amalgam fillings and composite fillings.  This helped us refine our technique and get comfortable with fillings before we go into the clinic.

Other Clinical Experiences – Throughout the first two years, we assisted in the clinic a lot!  We got to see many procedures.  We also had certain requirements we had to pass off such as taking impressions of patients’ teeth, doing a few new patient screenings, as well as helping to do fillings.  A couple of months ago, we got to do cleanings on teenagers who could come into the school for a free cleaning.  This helped me get valuable hands-on experience and got us more used to working on real people.


With all of these courses, you can rest assured that the dental student seeing you has probably already done the same procedure on many other teeth before he or she sees you as a patient.

It’s kind of like when you go to see a piano recital – the pianist performing has practiced the piece they will play over and over and has had many rehearsals to prepare for the recital.  Although the recital may be the first time they perform it with an audience, they know the piece well and have prepared carefully.

The same is true when you receive care at a dental school.  The student has practiced many times and has prepared carefully and has even probably been through a few “recitals” with an actual patient.  You can feel safe knowing they are competent enough to care for you.  And as an added assurance, all the work they do is supervised by an expert dentist who instructs them and oversees all of their work.

Dental Specialties

When you go to your family dentist, chances are that you are visiting a general dentist.  This is a dentist that has completed four years of postgraduate dental school and has received the dental degree of DMD or DDS.  Upon graduation, I am planning to practice general dentistry.

An Old Dental Surgeon SignSome dentists choose to obtain two to six more years of education by entering a dental specialty.

While general dentists do have a wide array of knowledge in all areas of clinical dentistry, specialists are focused on one specific niche inside of dentistry and often have more knowledge than general dentists in that specific area.

Thus, when a general dentist encounters a patient with a problem that is beyond his or her skill level to treat, the general dentist will refer their patient to a dental specialist.

ADA Seal of Acceptance Toothpaste on Brush

The American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance can be found on many dental products ranging from denture adhesives to toothpaste.  There are over 300 products that currently carry the ADA Seal of Acceptance.

ADA Seal - Accepted by The American Dental Association
The ADA Seal of Acceptance

The ADA Seal of Acceptance was started in 1930 to help consumers find out what products actually are effective at doing what they claim to do.

Old Toothbrush Advertisement from 1913
An Old Toothbrush Advertisement

At that time there were lots of new products being developed.  Many of the products claimed to do everything from cleaning your teeth to making you look 20 years younger.  The ADA created the seal to allow consumers to see that the claims on seal-awarded products had been validated by research and testing.

The ADA Seal of Acceptance is not a government program, it is run by the American Dental Association.  In fact, in 1984 President Ronald Reagan praised the ADA Seal program by giving the ADA a certificate of commendation.  Not all industries are able to regulate themselves so carefully without necessitating the creation of a government oversight agency.

How Does a Product Receive the ADA Seal of Acceptance?

In order for a product to receive the ADA Seal of Acceptance, it has to undergo lots of testing to make sure that it actually does what it says it will do.

The company that makes the product must submit the product information insert, ingredient lists, results of the research supporting the products effectiveness, provide evidence of good manufacturing processes, submit all packaging and advertising information about the product to the American Dental Association.

The ADA will then review the pertinent information.  Here is what the ADA has to say about the process:

More than 125 consultants, including members of the ADA’s Council on Scientific Affairs and ADA staff scientists, review and declare oral care products safe, effective and worthy of the ADA Seal. The consultants represent all fields relevant to evaluating dental products, including dental materials, microbiology, pharmacology, toxicology and chemistry. In some instances, the ADA may conduct or ask the company to conduct additional testing. Only after a product has demonstrated its safety and effectiveness will the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs award the Seal to that product.

You can view a complete list of the ADA Seal of Acceptance testing criteria on the ADA’s website.

How is the ADA Seal Different from the FDA Approved Seal?

FDA SealIf a product is FDA approved, it doesn’t mean that it is effective for dental use.  It simply means that the company has obtained permission from the FDA to manufacture and sell the product in the United States.

The ADA Seal of Acceptance on the other hand is much more comprehensive than the FDA seal of approval and actually tests the product to ensure that it does what it claims to do.

How to Find Products that are ADA Seal Accepted

There is a simple search form that you can use on the American Dental Association’s website to search for ADA-accepted products.

The following types of products can all carry the ADA Seal, provided the manufacturer has applied for it:

  • Artificial Saliva
  • Chewing Gum
  • Denture Adherents
  • Denture Cleansers
  • Floss and Interdental Cleaners
  • Mouth Rinses
  • Toothbrushes
  • Toothpaste

Is a Product Harmful If It Doesn’t Have the ADA Seal?

There are many dental products that do not contain the ADA Seal of Acceptance.  This does not necessarily mean that they are bad.  They could be good products, but perhaps the manufacturer didn’t have the money to go through the process of obtaining the seal.  Perhaps the company doesn’t think that they need the ADA Seal to sell their product.

It could also be a “homeopathic” product that makes claims that may not be scientifically sound.  These products cannot obtain the ADA Seal of Acceptance because claims have to be backed up by scientific evidence.

I’m sure there are many more reasons why a product may not have the ADA Seal.  However, if a product is harmful, it will usually be forced off the market by a governmental regulatory agency.

ADA Seal of AcceptanceUPDATE: 3/28/2011

Here is a version of the ADA Seal that has been used as recently as 2006.  You may still see it around, so I figured that I would keep it here for informational purposes.

Note that this is simply to illustrate what the ADA Seal of Acceptance looks like, so you can make more informed choices as a consumer.

The ADA does not endorse this page and is not affiliated with Oral Answers in any way.

Do you have any questions about the ADA Seal of Acceptance?  Leave a comment below!

Dentists DMD and DDS Degrees

Have you ever noticed how some dentists have the abbreviation DMD after their name and some have DDS as their suffix? You’re not alone. I too had this question, and wanted to find out why there are two different degrees for dentists. Here’s the answer:

Dentist DDS DMDWay back in 1840 the world’s first dental school was established in Maryland.  It was called the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery (which has since merged with the University of Maryland School of Dentistry.)  The Baltimore College of Dental Surgery admitted students eager to become dental professionals.  Upon graduation, they were awarded the DDS degree, which stands for Doctor of Dental Surgery.

Things were great in the mid-1800’s.  Those who were dentists had the suffix “DDS” hooked on to the end of their name.

Then, 27 years later, Harvard University decided to create a dental school.

It was the first dental school to be affiliated with a major university.  Since Harvard likes to be unique, and only grant degrees in Latin, they mulled over calling their degree “Chirurgae Dentium Doctoris,” or CDD.  In case you weren’t aware, that means Doctor of Dental Surgery in Latin.

Evidently, Harvard officials didn’t think that “Chirurgae Dentium Doctoris” had quite the ring that they were going for, so they consulted a latin scholar who suggested that they tack the word Dentariae onto their Medicinae Doctorae degree for doctors.  They came up with “Dentariae Medicinae Doctorae”, which means Doctor of Dental Medicine.  They abbreviated this DMD.

The Growth DMD Degree Awards

In 1900, only Harvard and the University of Oregon used the DMD degree.

In 1989, 23 of the 66 dental schools in the United States awarded the DMD degree.

Today, there are 58 dental schools in the United States.  According to the ADEA’s Official Guide to Dental Schools, 24 of the 58 award DMD degrees while 34 of them award DDS degrees.

After looking at the statistics in the Official Guide to Dental Schools, I looked at the class size of each school.  I used 50 as an estimate for Western University College of Dental Medicine, since they will be opening in the fall and I can’t find their “ideal class size” listed on their website.

So here’s the numerical breakdown of the population of first year dental students that will be attending DDS vs. DMD dental schools:

Number of DMD First Year Students: 1844
Number of DDS First Year Students: 3005

As you can see, DDS dentists on average, outnumber DMD dentists 3 to 2.

In Canada, there are ten dental schools.  Six award DMD degrees and four award DDS degrees.

Are DMD and DDS Dentists Different?

A dentist with DMD after their name and one with DDS after their name can perform the exact same procedures.  There is no difference or special privilege that one degree holds over the other.  In fact, both degrees have to use the same curriculum requirements that are designated by the American Dental Association.

The various dental schools are given the choice as to which degree they would like to award their graduates.

The DMD vs. DDS Controversy

Many people in the general public are confused by the two degrees that dentists have.  In some parts of the country, people may only recognize one of the suffixes as being a dentist.

There have been calls to the ADA to get rid of both degrees and create a new “streamlined” degree that everyone will recognize as a dentist.  However, there seems to be too much pride in one’s degree to completely get rid of them.  There is also a rich history in both degrees.

Those advocates of DDS say that dentists perform surgery daily by removing tooth structure, extracting teeth, performing gum surgery, etc.  Advocates of the DMD degree say that dentists are truly doctors of dental medicine and need to consider the scope of the whole body when planning a treatment for a patient.

It seems that for the time being, there will continue to be two different degrees that permit dental professionals to perform the exact same work.

Dental Schools Debate Which Degree to Offer

Even dental schools have been confused about which degree is best to offer.  One example is the Washington University School of Dental Medicine, which was started in 1866 and closed its doors in 1991.  They offered both DMD and DDS degrees to different graduating classes:

  • 1866 – 1891: Awarded DDS Degree
  • 1892 – 1900: Awarded DMD Degree
  • 1901 – 1972: Awarded DDS Degree
  • 1973 – 1991: Awarded DMD Degree

You can read about those changes and a history of the now-defunct school here.


I am currently enrolled in a University that grants DMD degrees.  In just over two years, I’ll have the DMD suffix on the end of my name.  When I was a kid, I always recognized dentists as the people with DDS on the end of their name.  Since DDS is still more common, perhaps that’s how most people recognize dentists.

Have you ever been confused by this?  If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below in the comments section.  Thanks for reading!