Have you ever wondered whether dentists are doctors? Why do they have the title of “Dr.” in front of their name? Dentists do hold doctoral degrees, and hence are regarded as “doctors.” However, the question of whether a dentist is a medical doctor is more complicated. This article looks into a list of all professions that can use the title “doctor” and why all people who use the title “doctor” should not be treated equally in the healthcare industry.
Who Can Use the Title Doctor?
In the healthcare industry, the term “Doctor” is an umbrella term that is generally used to refer to a wide range of professionals who possess the highest educational qualifications in their respective fields. In the United States and Canada, depending on the province or state that you live in, the title “Doctor” is heavily regulated to ensure that it is used appropriately. This is because the title “Doctor” often carries a lot of weight and authority and, if used inappropriately, has the ability to harm the public significantly. Although there may be slight differences depending on the exact jurisdiction you live in, in most cases, the list of healthcare professionals who can use the title “Doctor” include:
Physicians (Medical Doctors):
Medical doctors, also known as physicians, are those who have completed medical school and earned a medical degree, like a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). These physicians are able to diagnose and treat diseases and conditions of the human body and can prescribe medications. When you think of doctors, physicians are the professionals that most likely come to mind.
Dentists are those who have completed a dental school program and earned a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). Dentists are focused on the health and well-being of the mouth, teeth, gums, and jaw. They diagnose and treat an array of oral health issues, including cavities and gingivitis, and can prescribe medications. Although some dentists may also hold an MD, most do not.
Optometrists are those who have completed an optometry program and earned a Doctor of Optometry (OD). These professionals specialize in diagnosing and treating vision issues and eye diseases, as well as prescribing medications, eyeglasses, or contact lenses.
Psychologists are those who have completed a doctoral program in psychology and earned a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D). They are focused on diagnosing and treating mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression, by providing counseling or psychotherapy.
Chiropractors are those who have completed a chiropractic program and earned a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC). They specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal issues, particularly in the spine, as well as holistic treatments like nutrition and lifestyle counselling. However, chiropractors are not able to prescribe medication. Recently, some controversy has surrounded the practice of chiropractic due to its lack of scientific evidence.
Naturopathic Doctor (Partially)
Naturopathic doctors are those who have completed a naturopathic program and earned a Doctor of Naturopathy (ND). These professionals specialize in holistic and natural treatments, such as nutrition, herbal medicine, and lifestyle counselling. Naturopathic doctors can also not prescribe medication, similar to chiropractors, and have similar discussions surrounding their lack of scientific evidence. As such, depending on where you live, naturopathic doctors are not able to use the full title “Doctor” and must use the title “Naturopathic Doctor” or are not allowed to use the title at all.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists (Partially)
Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners and Acupuncturists can also be referred to as “Doctor” in some places, depending on the jurisdiction. Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners are those who have earned a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, while Acupuncturists are those who have earned a Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. These professionals specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of physical illness, pain, and other health conditions by using traditional Chinese medicine techniques such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, and lifestyle counselling. They are not able to prescribe medications in most cases and face similar controversy as naturopathic doctors and chiropractors.
So Are Dentists Doctors?
Yes, dentists are considered doctors and have the right to use the title “Doctor” in all jurisdictions of the United States and Canada. In North America, dentists typically complete an undergraduate degree, as well as a four-year dental school program and must pass licensing exams in order to practice. Their training is composed of a rigorous two years of training in biomedical sciences and then two years of clinical dentistry. Upon graduation, they are awarded either DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or DMD (Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry). Both are completely equal degrees and hold completely equal licenses. The only difference between the two is the type of degree offered by the dental school they attended.
After completing dental school, dentists are able to specialize, in a somewhat similar fashion to residency that physicians undergo (except it isn’t mandatory). Specialties include endodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics, periodontics, and prosthodontics can bring the total schooling to as much as 11 years after graduating high school.
Like doctors, dentists practice evidence-based medicine and are able to prescribe medications. However, dentists are not the same as physicians (aka medical doctors). Dentists are trained to diagnose diseases of the mouth, head, and neck, and can prescribe medications and administer anesthesia/sedation to do so. Dentists are not trained to treat diseases of the whole body. Some types of dental specialists, such as oral surgeons, undergo extensive and rigorous training and can be regarded as “dentists and physicians” because they hold both a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) and an MD (Medical Doctor) degree. Nonetheless, these situations are rare.
Not all “Doctors” Should Be Treated Equal
Now that you know who is and isn’t a doctor, it’s important to keep in mind that not all doctors are equal. In other words, people who are able to use the title doctor do not all prescribe to the same ideas on how to treat the body.
Be sure to do your research into who you’re seeing and what credentials they have before making any decisions regarding your health care. In general, it is our recommendation to use healthcare providers who follow evidence-based medicine and are properly credentialed by the appropriate governing body. This includes:
- Physicians (MD/DO)
- Dentists (DDS/DMD)
- Optometrists (OD)
- Psychologists (PsyD)
Notably missing from this list are naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, and acupuncturists. These healthcare providers may not necessarily follow evidence-based medicine, and it is important to be aware of this when going to see them. This doesn’t mean that they cannot provide helpful advice, but it is important to be aware of the approaches they use when making decisions regarding your health.
In conclusion, dentists are “doctors,” but they are not medical doctors. They are trained to diagnose and treat diseases of the mouth, head, and neck. Dentists offer a range of services related to oral health, including diagnosis of disease, treatment planning, oral health promotion, surgical procedures, and emergency care. While not medical doctors, dentists are essential healthcare providers who play a critical role in ensuring the health of their patients’ teeth, gums, and mouth.
The contents of this website, such as text, graphics, images, and other material are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be substituted for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nothing on this website constitutes the practice of medicine, law or any other regulated profession.
No two mouths are the same, and each oral situation is unique. As such, it isn’t possible to give comprehensive advice or diagnose oral conditions based on articles alone. The best way to ensure you’re getting the best dental care possible is to visit a dentist in person for an examination and consultation.