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What Is the Difference Between Dentists with DDS and DMD 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!



      • Thank you for information: I have to let my dentist to extract thee remaining tooth from my lower Gum and let to implant two teeths and finally use a denture top of those implants.
        I am really confuse ,since the three dentists I asked for their price ,they gave me fifferent qutes ,starting $1400 up to $3500 for implants /each plus $2000.0 for denture.?
        I do not understand what are differences? I do not know what questions do I ask the dentists in order be able to find out answer for price differences?
        Please let me know what questions do I have ask the dentist to find out that his price is resonable and the implant material he would use is good?
        Thank You

    • Hi Kenenisa,

      I’m not sure if you’re asking about the difference between DMD and DDS dentists or dentists and doctors, so I’ll answer both.

      According to Payscale, a doctor makes an average of $136,927 per year in the United States and a dentist makes an average of $122,045 per year in the U.S. According to that data, it looks like doctors make slightly more than dentists on average per year.

      If you’re wondering whether or not DDS dentists make more than DMD dentists, I don’t think that there is a difference. I will be graduating with a DMD degree in May 2012, and some people have said that dentists with a DMD degree can be at a disadvantage in certain areas of the United States where DDS is the only degree recognized as being a dentist. Since DMD is less common, it may put them at a slight disadvantage, but I’m not sure anyone has ever tried to measure the salary difference between a DMD dentist and a DDS dentist.

      I hope that helps, Kenenisa. Thanks for your comment!

  1. The type of degree awarded to a dentist doesn’t affect how much he/she will make. Geographical region and the scope of practice are a better determinant of potential salary.

  2. hi

    i just want to ask what is the difference between DDS degree which is given in USA and FDS degree in UK..

    i mean if both dentists have same level of qualification…?

    • Hi Maheen – I would assume that the degrees are fairly similar. I believe that most dentists with foreign degrees need to spend a couple of years at a dental school in the U.S. if they want to become licensed here. The opposite may also be true.

      You can learn more about dental degrees on this page at Wikipedia.

      I hope that helps, Maheen. Thanks for your comment! Let me know if you have any other questions.

  3. If a ‘DDS’ is a doctor of dental surgery, why does my DDS have to refer me to an “Oral Surgeon” to get a wisdom tooth pulled? What’s the difference?

    • A DDS or DMD allows a dentist to practice all dental procedures. However, there are several different specialties within the scope of dentistry that have undergone extra training in different areas. Often times when there are increased risks of a certain procedure or an increased amount of complications, the dentist will refer to a specialist. In the case of your oral surgeon, they have gone through an extra 4 to 6 years of residency training beyond dental school, which makes them more qualified for wisdom teeth extraction. Often times wisdom teeth are impacted impacted and have very large and curvacious roots, which make the extraction more difficult. Furthermore, Oral Surgeons are certified in general anesthesia and due to the severity of the surgery many patients want to be asleep for the surgery.

  4. Thank you for clearing that up. We are in the midst of changing providers and I was a little concerned about the difference in the title.

  5. I am considering invisaline treatment. I just had my consult and I am now determining if I want to spend the money. My question is do u recommend this treatment? Also is 5800.00 a reasonable price for this service? My orthodontist told me that this would work great for me I just want to make sure I’m making the right choice. Thank you!

  6. Thanks so much for clarifying the difference between DDS and DMD. I found your information very interesting. Pride and history are extremely important aspects to hold onto in this country. Research is only a quick click away to answer sought out questions….if we only take the time to want to learn more. Thank you for taking the time to expand my horizons on this matter.


  8. Well, it took until the last bit of my lifetime to learn that there is no difference between DDS and DMD. I’m not happy about that. It isn’t as though I haven’t asked, but no one has been straightforward. I either learned, albeit wrongly, that DMD meant more intensive study of anatomy and physiology — essentially an MD-level physician with a specialty in dentistry, which, I think, is what it should mean. It has definitely been the case, however, that the approach, even the offices, of DMDs I have seen has been different, and it wasn’t only a self-fulfilling prophecy because, in every instance, the fees were higher as well, which is something one can expect with seeing a practitioner who has specialty-related knowledge. The oral surgeon I see, however, and who is considered one of the top oral surgeons in the state, is a DDS. I am emphatically not happy about this lack of difference.

  9. But presumably, (and I think this is a fair assessment), dentists by any name who graduate from a well-respected program – let’s say Tufts, might be a tad better than someone who graduates from ‘Joe’s School of the Dental Challenged’, so looking at the academic rigor of the graduating institution must carry some value, regardless of whether all ‘dentists’ have to meet the same requirements.


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