DMD vs DDS: What’s The Difference?

When looking for a dentist, you may find one listed as “DMD” and another going by “DDS”. When you’re looking for a dental degree, you may be more confused. Some schools offer the DMD, others the DDS; yet when you look at the particulars of the program, they all look similar. Truth be told, even most dentists don’t know the difference between the DDS or the DMD.

DMD vs DDS: What they Are

The DMD (Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry) and the DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) are both the same degree. To quote the ADA (American Dental Association), “There is no difference between the two degrees; dentists who have a DMD or DDS have the same education. State licensing boards accept either degree as equivalent, and both degrees allow licensed individuals to practice the same scope of general dentistry.” So what separates the two degrees? Absolutely Nothing. Well, apart from the name obviously. So let’s look into that. What caused the ‘difference’ between the two degrees?

Where they differ

Let’s take a tour back in time. Ancient medicine was basically divided into a surgery group that used instruments for treatments, and a medicine group that used medicine for the treatments. Initially, there was only one dental degree-the DDS, the Doctor of Dental Surgery. It was awarded to graduates by independent schools of dentistry. Back then, the schools were more or less like apprenticeship schools. They had no affiliations with any universities. The English DDS-Doctor of Dental Science-was also unacceptable as dentistry was not considered a science at the time. Then Harvard happened.

In 1867, Harvard University began a dental school. Now, Harvard degrees are in Latin. That being the case, the DDS was to be translated to CDD (Chirurgae Dentium Doctoris). Try saying that 3 times fast. Cumbersome, right? The Harvard people thought so too. A Latin scholar suggested the prefix Dentariae be added to the already existent Medicinae Doctor. Thus, the DMD (Dentariae Medicinae Doctor) was conceived. Yale University also began offering the DMD degree, and soon thereafter more universities flowed suit. However, many more chose to retain the original DDS degree designation.

Take the Washington University School of Dental Medicine for instance. It started in 1866 and closed its doors in 1991. They offered both DMD and DDS degrees to different graduating classes as follows:

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


The Situation Today

The ADA is well aware of the confusion over the 2 degrees. It has tried to lessen the confusion. However, given that the options are: eliminate the DDS degree, eliminate the DMD degree or do away with both and create a new universal degree name, you can understand how difficult it is. When you consider that school pride and tradition will also be affected, you may have to accept that this confusion will be around for a long time.

Dentistry today demands proper diagnosis that takes into consideration all patient and dental factors. All dental schools now emphasize excellence in both diagnosis and clinical skills. Most dentists practice with that as their goals as well.

Other than the slight technicality in the name, you can be rest assured that the DMD and DDS are one and the same degree.

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