‘Are dentists doctors as well?’ ‘Why do they call themselves doctors?’ ‘Are dentists allowed to use the title doctor even if they are not medical doctors?’ These are just some of the condescending questions dentists encounter whenever the topic about using the title doctor in their profession arises. Let us find out how one becomes a dentist, why they use the title doctor, and if they are allowed to use it.
Are dentists doctors: The degree
As an aspiring dentist, you need to finish a 3- or 4-year bachelor degree before planning to become a dentist. Basically, to become a general dentist requires three or more years of undergraduate schooling plus four years of dental school. Upon graduating and completing their training, these new dentists must pass a difficult national written examination and a clinical licensing test given by the state in order to practice dental medicine or dentistry.
Like any professional, dentists must have continuing education requirements for them to keep their licenses. This requirement ensures that they are up-to-date with the latest innovations and clinical advancements in the dental field. They must also have additional post-graduate training if they want to become a specialist (orthodontist, oral surgeon, periodontist, etc.) much like how GPs would if they’re going to be neurosurgeons or paediatricians.
Are dentists doctors: The title
Dentists are considered doctors of the teeth, but in reality, they are not regarded as medical doctors. The title ‘Doctor’ may have come about because of the studies dentists completed to become professionals. Some countries, like the US and Canada, use degrees called Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) and Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). These two degrees are just the same, and dentists who have a DMD or DDS have the same education. It is only the school where one came from that determines the degree, but they basically have the same required curriculum. Having said this, dentists then started to use the title doctor when introducing themselves to clients or patients.
Are dentists doctors: The obligation
Apart from the use of the title ‘doctor,’ dentists have a lot on their shoulders when it comes to taking care of our dental health. Much like medical doctors, dentists follow strict rules and regulations enforced by the government to ensure that the patient’s welfare is always their priority.
The Australia Dental Board released a fact sheet in October 2012 about the obligations of a dental practitioner regarding the use of the titles ‘specialist’ and ‘doctor.’ The memo noted the illegal use of the ‘specialist’ title if the dentist is not registered as a specialist health practitioner.
However, there are no provisions under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law that specifically prohibit a practitioner from using the title ‘doctor.’ The only condition that was somehow conveyed in the memo was that a dentist should make considerable effort to explain that he is not a medical doctor when he wants to put the title doctor in his name when marketing or advertising his practice or clinic. This effort removes the notion or misunderstanding that dentists are trying to be associated with the medical profession.
So, are dentists doctors? No, they are not medical doctors. BUT, they are not prohibited to use the title doctor. Australians have grown accustomed to addressing dentists as ‘Doctor A’ or ‘Doctor B,’ so as long as they are licensed and registered as true dental professionals, they have the right to use that title. After all, they also have the same objective as doctors do, and that is to take care of you (and your teeth!)