A Dentist By Any Other Name Is Still A Dentist, Right?

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dds magd spelled out with scrabble letters

That’s a lot of consonants. Have you ever wondered what all of those ‘letters of authority’ mean after a dentist’s name? When they’re lined up in a row, they have the potential to be a really, really bad turn in a game of Scrabble.

It’s All Greek To Me

LOL, ROFL, LMAO; sometimes I need a cheat sheet to decipher a text message, and I’ll admit, I did actually have to Google “SMH.” So I totally get why it’s hard to keep up with all of the different credentials that go with each and every medical provider, not to mention that most medical terminology derives from some really complicated, multisyllabic Latin verbiage.

Medical Studies and Honorific Suffixes
Before the turn of the century, institutions of higher education separated the disciplines of surgery and medicine, the argument being that physicians healed using internal and external medication, and surgeons treated ailments manually. The Latin translation for ‘Doctor of Dental Surgery’ is “Chirurgiae Dentium Doctoris” (try saying that after a triple shot espresso), but the administrators of newly developing dental schools, like Harvard, found the C.D.D. abbreviation unacceptable. ‘Doctor of Dental Science’ was also rejected, because at that time, dentistry was not classified as a science (imagine that?!). M.D., which we are all familiar with, is an abbreviation of the Latin “Medicinae Doctoris”, so “Dentariae” was added as a prefix to indicate the field of specialty, and thus D.M.D. (aka ‘Doctor of Dental Medicine’) came to be.

D.D.S. vs. D.M.D.

What does DDS stand for? Doctor of Dental Surgery.

What does DMD stand for? Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry, or Doctor of Dental Medicine.

People who aren’t familiar with the history or meaning of these abbreviations often also wonder which is better. When you’re considering a dentist, is one of the honorific suffixes better than the other? Nope! There is no difference at all. If your dentist has a dds or a dmd it means they’ve received all of the same training.

Those letters most of us are familiar with seeing after a dentist’s name today – “D.D.S.” – was initially used in the 1800’s by trade or apprenticeship schools unaffiliated with universities. It was the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, at the University of Maryland, that became the nation’s first, official dental school.

At the turn of the century, there were 57 dental schools in the United States, and with the exception of Harvard and Oregon, every other school awarded a D.D.S. degree. Right now, there are currently 58 accredited dental schools in the United States, out of those, 24 award D.M.D. degrees and 34 grant the D.D.S, but the qualifications are exactly the same.

The requirements for each degree is identical; in order to become an accredited professional, a dental student in either program must complete the same National Board of Dental Examinations. They must then pass a regional or state dental board exam, in addition to a state ethics examination, before being allowed to practice dentistry in that state.

Much like the battle of Imperial versus the Metric system, the D.D.S. v D.M.D. debate is probably not going to be resolved. While the American Dental Association (ADA) knows that this is confusing to the public, and has proposed eliminating one designation, both, or creating a new (third) universal one, it would seem that the traditions of an academic institution are difficult to change. I obtained my D.D.S. degree from the University of Michigan – Go Wolverines!

Dr. Drews at a dental lecture
Not Too Cool For (More) School
This is me sitting in a dark lecture hall looking at a mandibular canal location slide. I liked nothing better than to spend one weekend a month (especially in January) sitting in a dark lecture hall at the University of Florida in Gainesville for two years straight. Let me tell you, the struggle of a lifelong learner is real.


The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) is a professional association of 39,000 general dentists dedicated to providing quality dental care and oral health education to the public. Founded in 1952, it is the only association that exclusively represents and lobbies for the needs and interests of general dentists (on the state and federal level). Their Fellowship and Mastership designations are two of the most rigorous continuing dental education programs available today.

So if your dentist has another string of letters following DDS (or DMD) it signifies they’re seriously dedicated to continuing dental education and have earned the prestigious AGD Fellowship or Mastership Award.

A “Fellow (FAGD)” must earn a minimum of 500 approved continuing dental education credits and pass a comprehensive 400-question examination, and is required to be an AGD member for three continuous years.

A “Master (MAGD)” must first be a “Fellow”, and then earn another 600 approved continuing education credits, which includes 400 hours of hands-on coursework. Therefore, a Master of the AGD has taken a total of 1,100 hours of continuing education, and has studied 16 disciplines in dentistry (including periodontics, ortho, implants, etc.). We are a dedicated bunch of nerds.

What Does It All Mean For YOU?

DDS or DMD after your dentist’s name means your dentist has met the educational requirements to torture treat you. If you need to check the credentials of your dentist, there’s a nice list here from Tom, a dentist in rural Virginia. The educational requirement in nearly all states is a DDS or DMD degree from a university-based dental education program accredited by the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation (ADA CODA).

FAGD or MAGD after your dentist’s name means your dentist is committed to the pursuit of continuing education. The AGD Fellows and Masters awards represent a professional responsibility to remain current with new techniques in the dental field, so that we are able to provide YOU (our patient) with the highest quality of dental care possible.

Consider This

With all of this talk about strings of letters, I can’t resist one last bit of random trivia. If you think the gobbledygook at the end of your medical provider’s name is a bit much, check out the name of this town in Wales.

railway station sign

That’s the actual train station sign (just click on the image to enlarge it).

I think I’d move to the next town over just to avoid the hassle of filling out forms!

Don’t believe me?

peter's signature

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