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What is a dental specialist?

Last week, I saw two new patients for consultations, and after chatting with them for a few minutes they both said to me, “but I thought a specialist did my work!”

The first patient explained that a ‘cosmetic dentist’ specialist recommended she have veneers done to straighten her “crooked” teeth. Unfortunately, the result was (in her words) a complete disaster. The other patient stated that she, too, was seeing a specialist, a ‘neuromuscular dentist,‘ after being told her bite was bad and that a full mouth reconstruction was required to correct it. Unfortunately for her, she ended up with jaw pain, breaking crowns and ugly teeth (as she put it). Both of these patients were under the false impression that they were treated by dental specialists.

So, how do you know if your dentist is a specialist? Here are a few guidelines to help you determine what is and isn’t a recognized, board-certified specialist.

Look for Key Advertising words 

To provide some context, the Canadian Dental Association recognizes seven clinical dental specialists:

Endodontists are specialists in root canals and tooth infections.

Orthodontists are dentists who specialize in teeth straightening using braces and appliances.

Periodontists are experts in gum disease and gum surgery.

Oral surgeons are experts in wisdom tooth removal and jaw surgeries.

Prosthodontists are specialists in restoring missing teeth with crowns, bridges, implants and dentures.

Pedodontists: are experts in pediatric dentistry.

Oral radiologists: specialists in taking various types of x-rays and images of the jaws, head and neck area

These 7 specialties are the only dentists permitted by the College of Dental Surgeon of Alberta to use the terms ‘specialist’, ‘specialize’ or ‘practice limited to’ in their advertisements, business cards, letterheads and so on.

What is a General Dentist (GP)?

General dentists (GPs) complete a 4 year program in dental school and earns a DDS or DMD degree.

In Alberta, all dentists have a framed licence from the College of Dental Surgeons of Alberta that states they are licensed to practice general dentistry in the province. This licence must be on display in the office for all patients to see.

General dentists have very good background knowledge of all 7 specialty areas of dentistry and will perform certain procedures in all 7 of these specialties. Some general dentists will choose to do more procedures in some specialties while doing less procedures in others.

As a GP, I chose to do more crowns, dentures and extractions because they were my favourite appointments. I did fewer root canals (I referred those patients to an endodontist) because they were my least favourite appointments. I preferred focusing my practice on crowns, veneers and bridges yet, I could not claim my practice was limited to that or say that I specialized in them. All general dentists in Alberta, must state in their advertising that all services are provided by a general dentist. It was my preference for crowns and bridges that inspired me to go back to school for three more years and become a prosthodontist (crown and bridge specialist).

What is a Dental Specialist? It’s all in the letters

A dental specialist is a dentist who decides to return to school full-time and complete an extra 3-6 years of specialized training at an accredited university in one of the seven post-graduate specialty programs. When they complete their training, they will receive a Specialty certificate and a Master’s degree (for research completed in the program).

All board-certified specialists have also passed a rigorous specialty board examination administered by the Royal College of Dentists of Canada and will be recognized as Fellows of the Royal College. On business cards and letterheads, these dentists will usually have the letters FRCDC after their title. So, as a board-certified prosthodontist, I have the following title:

Dr. Jeff Ceyhan DDS, MSD, Cert Pros, FRCDC.

To translate this:

–       the ‘DDS’ shows that I am a dentist (Doctor Dental Surgery degree) , can also be DMD

–       the ‘MSD’ shows I have my Masters degree from my specialty research (Master of Science in Dentistry), can also be MSc

–       the ‘Cert Pros’ shows that I have completed my specialty training and received my specialty certificate/diploma in prosthodontics

–       the ‘FRCDC’ shows that I am a board certified fellow in good standing with the Royal College of Dentists of Canada (Fellow Royal College Dentists Canada).

Check the Framing

Dental specialists will also have a framed licence from the Dental Association but it will show they are licensed to practice their specialty and general dentistry. For example, my licence shows that I am licensed to practice the specialty of prosthodontics and general dentistry.

Does the Specialist truly specialize?

Ask yourself, “Does my dentist really specialize in one area of denitstry?”

Dental specialists will typically only do dental procedures that fall within their area of expertise. So for example, I know an orthodontist who not only offers braces but also offers to do veneers, fillings and crowns. That’s not really specializing is it?

A responsible specialist prioritizes their patients’ dental care and will refer you to another specialist, or general dentist, for procedures that are not within their area of expertise.

CDSA “Find a Dentist” Tab

Last way to make sure…… go to the College of Dental Surgeons of Alberta website ( and click on the “Find a Dentist” Tab. Type the dentist name in and it will tell you right away if the dentist is licensed and if they are a general dentist or a specialist.

And that’s how you know if your dentist is a specialist!

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