DDS or DMD Degree?

Many people, including dentists, share your confusion over the use of the D.D.S. and D.M.D. degrees. Today, some dental schools grant a D.D.S. degree and others prefer to award the D.M.D. degree instead. The training the dentists receive is very similar but the degree granted is different. Here are the details:

Ancient medicine was divided into two groups:

1. the surgery group that dealt with treating diseases and injuries using instruments; and

2. the medicine group that dealt with healing diseases using internal remedies. Originally there was only the D.D.S. degree which stands for Doctor of Dental Surgery.

This all changed in 1867 when Harvard University added a dental school. Harvard University only grants degrees in Latin. Harvard did not adopt the D.D.S. or “Doctor of Dental Surgery” degree because the Latin translation was “Chirurgae Dentium Doctoris” or C.D.D. The people at Harvard thought that C.D.D. was cumbersome. A Latin scholar was consulted. The scholar suggested the ancient “Medicinae Doctor” be prefixed with “Dentariae”. This is how the D.M.D. or “Dentariae Medicinae Doctor” degree was started. (Congratulations! Now you probably know more Latin than most dentists!)

At the turn of the century, there were 57 dental schools in the U.S. but only Harvard and Oregon awarded the D.M.D. In 1989, 23 of the 66 North American dental schools awarded the D.M.D. I think about half the Canadian dental schools now award the D.M.D. degree.

The American Dental Association (A.D.A.) is aware of the public confusion surrounding these degrees. The A.D.A. has tried on several occasions to reduce this confusion. Several sample proposals include:

1. eliminate the D.M.D. degree;

2. eliminate the D.D.S. degree; or

3. eliminate both degrees and invent a brand new degree that every dental school will agree to use.

Unfortunately, this confusion may be with us for a long time. When emotional factors like “school pride” and “tradition” arise, it is difficult to find a compromise.


Taken from Dr. Kimberly Loos, D.D.S., from