What’s the Difference Between a Dentist and an Oral Surgeon?

Have you even been confused about the difference between a dentist and an oral surgeon? You are not alone. Many people don’t realize the two titles are not synonymous and use the terms interchangeably. Read on and learn about what each occupation entails.


According to The American Dental Association, as of April 2016 there are approximately 210,000 practicing dentists in the US.

Dentists are those who have completed dental school. Their titles include acronyms like DDS, which stands for Doctor of Dental Surgery, or DMD, which is an abbreviation of Doctor of Dental Medicine.

They usually obtain an undergraduate degree in the science, take the Dental Admissions Test (commonly known as the DAT), and then head to dental school for 4-5 years. At that point, some dentists go right into the field while others spend time training for one of nine specialties outlined by the American Dental Association: dental public health, endodontics, oral and maxillofacial pathology, oral and maxillofacial radiology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics, orthopedics, pediatrics, periodontics and prosthodontics.

All dentists diagnoses and treat mouth and teeth issues including cavities and gum disease. They perform root canals, fillings, crowns, bridges and veneer procedures. They also do simple surgical tasks including basic extraction and the removal of accesses.


Oral Surgeons, often referred to as oral and maxillofacial surgeons, focus exclusively on dental surgeries. Their most common surgeries include injury or defect reconstruction, TMJ corrections, wisdom teeth removal and dental implant surgeries. They also removes oral cancer masses.

According to Forbes.com, oral surgery is currently the fourth highest-paying job in America and there are roughly 5,800 oral surgeons practicing in the US.

Most dental surgeons follow this education plan: 4-year undergrad degree in science field (biology, chemistry, physics). They they take the Dental Admissions Test. At this point some people get both a dental school degree as well as a medical degree. Another options is to get a dental degree and then get a surgical residency approved by the American Dental Association’s Commission of Dental Accreditation.


Dentists are perfectly capable of simple extractions and they are trained and licensed to perform them. If the extraction is complicated, they will often refer their patient to an oral surgeon. Difficult extractions usually involve impacted teeth. If several wisdom teeth will be removed at once, or if the patient has a low pain tolerance, picking a dentist or oral surgeon who is trained to extract using IV sedation is preferable.

Responsible and conscientious dentists use good judgement when deciding whether to do an extraction or to refer their patient to an oral surgeon.

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