13 dental specialties (what they do and how to choose one)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 3 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The field of dentistry offers a wide range of career options. The General Dental Council (GDC) recognises 13 dental specialties. If you're considering pursuing a career in dental care, it's important to know the various dental specialties and understand what they entail. In this article, we explore each dental specialty and discuss their roles and provide a step-by-step guide to help you decide which specialty to pursue.

What are dental specialties?

Dental specialties are areas of dental care that focus on a specific aspects of dental health. The GDC is responsible for maintaining the list of dental specialties and regulating dental care professionals, including the register of dental specialists. Becoming a dental specialist requires completing a specialist training post and passing the specialty membership exams for your chosen specialty.

Dentists are usually only accepted onto a specialist training post once they have gained several years of general dentistry experience. Depending on the specialty, training can take between three to five years full-time. When it comes to choosing a dental specialty, it's important to consider your interests, skills and what you hope to achieve in your career.

Related: 8 essential dentist skills

13 dental specialties

Here are the 13 dental specialties, including their typical duties and requirements:

1. Dental and maxillofacial radiologist

Dental and maxillofacial radiology is a dental specialty and area of radiology that focuses on the teeth, mouth, face and jaw. Dental and maxillofacial radiologists are specialists in using medical imagery such as X-rays, MRI scans and CT scans to detect oral health issues. They take and interpret radiographic images to diagnose dental problems and guide treatment.

2. Dental public health specialist

Dental public health is a non-clinical specialty that's concerned with maintaining the dental health of groups of people rather than individuals. Dental public health specialists work with healthcare providers, government agencies and other dental professionals to improve the dental health of communities. Their work can influence the availability of oral health care services, policy and public health programmes.

3. Endodontist

Endodontics focuses on tooth pain, disease and infections that affect the interior of teeth and their associated tissues. This involves treating and preventing diseases and injuries that affect the tooth root, dental pulp and surrounding tissue. A large part of endodontists' work is performing root canal treatments.

4. Oral and maxillofacial pathologist

Oral and maxillofacial pathologists specialise in diagnosing and treating diseases of the oral and maxillofacial regions. Oral and maxillofacial pathologists take biopsies and study tissues to identify dental infections and oral cancer. They may also conduct research to develop new diagnostic methods and treatments.

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5. Oral medicine specialist

Specialists in oral medicine treat chronic and complex non-dental oral disorders. These include oral ulcers, diseases that affect soft tissues and disorders of salivary glands. Oral medicine specialists manage the issues they treat non-surgically.

6. Oral microbiologist

Oral microbiology is the study of bacteria and other microorganisms that grow in the mouth. Oral microbiologists are based in laboratories where they study microbiological samples. They may also conduct research to further the understanding of oral infections and disease.

7. Oral surgeon

Oral surgeons specialise in the surgical treatment of complex dental extractions and oral surgeries. They treat conditions such as cleft lips and palates and oral cancer. In addition to trauma and reconstructive surgeries, oral surgeons may also perform cosmetic surgery.

8. Orthodontist

Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry that corrects irregularities in teeth, bite and jaw. Orthodontists use braces, retainers and other appliances to align and correctly position patients' teeth and jaws. Their work treats conditions such as crowding, overbites and underbites. They may also perform dentistry for cosmetic purposes.

Related: The key differences between an orthodontist vs a dentist

9. Paediatric dentist

Paediatric dentists treat children and adolescents up to the age of 18. Their work often involves providing dental care to children with special needs. Paediatric dentists focus on preventative care and the early detection of dental problems, such as crowding and the onset of decay.

10. Periodontologist

Periodontology is a branch of dentistry that focuses on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of gum disease. Periodontists treat disorders, such as gingivitis and other conditions, that affect the tissues of the mouth. They also treat ailments that affect the bones that support teeth.

11. Prosthodontist

Prosthodontists are specialists in restoring and replacing damaged or missing teeth and maxillofacial tissues. Their duties include fitting dental implants and dentures. Prosthodontists usually treat patients who have lost many or all of their teeth and those who have lost a considerable amount of soft and hard oral tissues.

12. Restorative dentist

Restorative dentistry is the practice of restoring teeth. Restorative dentists use a variety of techniques to restore teeth, including fillings, crowns and bridges. The aim of restorative dentistry is to restore the function of teeth as opposed to improve the cosmetic appearance.

13. Special care dentist

Special care dentistry is a branch of dentistry that focuses on the treatment of patients with special needs. Special care dentists often work in hospitals or clinics and work alongside other healthcare providers. They treat children and adults who have developmental, physical and medical impairments.

How to choose a dental specialty

Deciding to specialise is a long-term commitment, so it's important to carefully consider which specialty is the best match for you. Some people may find that they have an aptitude for one particular area of dentistry, such as restorative work or orthodontics, while others may prefer a more research-based role in oral microbiology. If you want to specialise but are not sure which specialty is right for you, here are some steps to help you:

1. Think about the environment you want to work in

Dental specialists work in a variety of settings, including dental surgeries, hospitals and research labs. To help you choose your ideal environment, it might be helpful to consider the following questions:

  • Do you want to see patients daily?

  • Do you like working as part of a team?

  • Are you comfortable working in a lab setting?

  • Do you enjoy working in a fast-paced environment?

2. Consider the type of patients you want to treat

Some dental specialties focus on specific groups of patients or issues. For example, a paediatric dentist works with children. Here are some questions to help you decide what, if any, patients you prefer working with:

  • Do you want to have direct interaction with patients?

  • How much time do you want to spend with patients?

  • Do you have a preference for treating a certain age group?

  • Do you want to treat patients with special needs?

3. Consider the type of work you want to do

While there are some crossovers between dental specialties, some specialties involve more research or chairside work than others. For example, an oral surgeon performs surgeries, while an orthodontist might offer more cosmetic treatments. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Are you interested in researching new treatments and therapies?

  • Do you want to work in a primarily preventative or cosmetic field?

  • Do you enjoy seeing the direct results of your work?

  • Are you interested in performing surgeries?

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4. Reflect on your strengths in dentistry

Some dental specialties require specific skills. To determine your strengths, you can ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you proficient with computers and technologies?

  • Do you work well under pressure?

  • Are you good at putting patients at ease?

  • What did you excel in during your dental training?

5. Research the pay and job outlook for the specialty

Before you choose a dental specialty, it's important to research the pay and job outlook for the field. You can use a site like Indeed to find more about salaries in your area. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Is your chosen specialty in demand?

  • What is the average salary for the specialty?

  • What is the job outlook for your chosen specialty in your region?

  • Are you willing to relocate to take up a specialty training post?

6. Consider your lifestyle and family commitments

If you're thinking of pursuing a specialty, it's important to consider whether it suits your lifestyle and responsibilities. Some questions to think about are:

  • Do you want a regular schedule or are you open to working irregular hours?

  • What is the average work/life balance for people in your chosen specialty?

  • Do you have family obligations or other commitments that might impact your ability to work in your chosen specialty?

  • Are there any ethical concerns with your chosen specialty?

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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