The Truth about the Education of Your Oral Practitioner

Dentists and Periodontists are not doctors. They do not go to medical school. One should not be misled by the fact that they call themselves doctors. Many oral practitioners seem to go out of their way to leave people completely convinced that they attended medical school, that they are doctors, that they have the equivalent understanding of medical issues, and are perfectly qualified to address every aspect of your situation. This is far from the truth. Where your health is concerned, you should make sure that your issues are being correctly addressed by the right kind of doctor before you have a serious medical situation.

Your dentist and your periodontist are not legally allowed to practice any form of general medicine. Should they openly attempt to do so, they can have their licenses to practice in their own fields revoked. There is a good reason for this. They take fewer courses in general medicine than a 4 year biology major. The courses that they take in topics equivalent to a standard biology major are modified for their own field and can cover less than 1/3 of the information than in the real course. An individual holding a bachelor’s degree in general biology has roughly 3 to 4 times the amount of biomedical courses, and they are not the modified versions.

There are many professions with individuals that call themselves doctors. The only human health professionals that are really doctors have the designation MD written after their name.

None of this section is meant to imply they are not competent in their own field. The point is that they are not competent in general medicine and should not be attempting to practice general medicine. They should also be letting you know when you need more attention for your condition and that your condition requires a visit to a MD. Unfortunately, they seem to not always to do so.

A degree in dentistry has 2 equivalent designations, DDS and DMD. They are both Bachelors’ Degrees. The designation that they receive depends on what school they went to. A degree in dentistry (DDS or DMD) is a Bachelor of Arts, not a Bachelor of Science.

A periodontist is a dentist with a Master’s degree with likely one additional course in the generalized biological sciences, for example, a basic course in nutrition.

Boston University’s course catalog is online, as well as many others. Boston University is an excellent school. Using their web site, you will see that the total number of credits that your standard dentist takes in general biology is 14.5 and only 17.5 for your periodontist. That is the equivalent of less than 4 courses or only 1 semester worth of exposure in general medical issues. A typical biology course at BU is worth 4 credits each. The one semesters worth of coursework that your dentist and periodontist took in general medicine is split up among several different topics. The total number of credits that a dentist earns in the biological sciences, including in their own field is 36.5. A total of 36 credits in an area of concentration meets the minimal criteria for a bachelor’s degree at many schools.

A 4-year major in general biology is required to take 36 credits worth of real biomedical courses to meet the minimal requirements for the degree and may take 56 or more before they complete the degree. The difference between the two majors is that your oral practitioner focuses on the issues of the oral cavity and nothing else, a biology major may focus on general medicine. A dentist or periodontist must be able to go directly from school into practice. There is no internship; a dentist and a periodontist can begin diagnosing and treating dental problems as soon as he or she graduates. A general biology major is at liberty to spend their entire academic career taking biomedicine courses.

A potential problem with oral practitioners is that they may seem to feel that they are qualified to address a lot more than they really are. Using the title "doctor" does not make someone a doctor. Some believe that they have doctorate degree because the degree is called "doctorate of dental medicine" or "doctorate of dental science". It is not a doctorate degree, it is a bachelors degree and the designation of the degree is still BA because that is what it meets the requirements for under federal standards. The US is one of the few countries that allows individuals without doctorate degrees to call themselves doctors.

Many of us are led to believe that if your ailment is in your mouth that the oral practitioner is the complete expert and that they are addressing all issues in that anatomical area. Oral practitioners cannot address your allergy issues and can only so far as to tell you that you have something on the back of your throat. They are not qualified or allowed to diagnose it as hives and they may not be hives. They should tell you about it and tell you to see a MD.

You probably do not normally take a bright light and examine your own mouth and throat and are assuming that since they are looking in there, if there was a potential problem they would tell you. This is not necessarily true. Many times they don’t. The result is that you have no idea that you have a medical problem until it is severe. You should see a MD if you have any sort of spotting, growths or eruptions inside your mouth and make sure you are getting an accurate explanation.

You should also see your MD about your mandibular bone loss. A MD can address that from a medical point of view because they know all about the details of bone and skeletal metabolism and what regulates that in your system. Your oral practitioner does not take a course in this. Your oral practitioner cannot even suggest that you take calcium supplements to address it because that would be practicing medicine. You should not take calcium supplements to address it without consulting with your MD. If your body is in a state that it cannot handle the extra calcium, you will absorb none of it and you could get kidney stones.

An oral practitioner may have had more education than the minimal requirements. Unless they are holding a license to practice general medicine and have the designation MD they are not qualified to do so. You have no way of knowing what they took, where they took it and how well they understood what they took. Furthermore, unless they took every relevant course, like a MD does and passed the exams, there are huge holes in their understanding in areas they likely do not even realize exist. Medical information obsoletes very quickly, as there is a constant influx of new information and changes to existing information.

The human body is amazingly complex with an intricate system of chemical messages that are constantly regulated each organ. Physicians generally have specialties and there are specialists in every aspect of general medicine. Even at 10x the courses that your MD has in general medicine beyond what your oral practitioner has, it still many not possible to know every aspect of every system in the detail necessary to make sure that your medical issues are addressed at the optimal level. Physicians may refer patients to specialists. Specialists study a particular area of medicine in a lot more detail.

If you are going to review the courses that your oral practitioner takes and you are not a college graduate, the following information may be useful to you:

Many times a course with the same title is offered for both science and non science majors. The design of the course for the non science major is to acclimate the student to fundamental terminology and an overview of the topics covered without getting into any scientific depth.

The content of a first level course is generally an overview of gross anatomy and functionality. A second level course would introduce more specific differentiated cell functionality and a high level overview of how that organ or tissue integrates into the grander scheme of things either on a local or larger scale. A third level course would begin to discuss the details of that integration and cover biochemical pathways, biochemical messages and biochemical regulatory mechanisms that the cells of that organ or tissue are responsible for or effected by. The cut off for most non science majors is at the 200 level because they do not have the necessary foundation in biochemistry to understand topics at the higher levels. Without an adequate foundation in biochemistry, the student can only learn simplistic and introductory concepts. At the third level, there are still considerable holes, meaning that many topics have not been introduced that have to do with tissue receptors and cell metabolism of many substances. Higher level courses cover the details of the local biochemistry, fill in the holes in the integration of these systems, and integrate together the various systems and tissues of the body. Your MD spends most of their academic career at level 300 and higher. Generally courses are numbered at each level in increments of 100.

To get into dental school requires only 2 years of college education for most universities. Those two years do not have to have any biomedical courses outside of the minimal requirements dictated by the university for entrance requirements. Medical and Veterinary school require a 4 year degree to apply that must also include some specific courses. Many people decide on a career change or a change of major after their first 2 years of college. The same applies to the 3 years that BU requires. The information with respect to the minimal coursework needed to get into dental school is presented below.

The information on educational requirements was taken from Boston University’s online course catalog. Boston University is an excellent school for many different disciplines. The courses that a dentist at BU takes are below and the number of credits that relevant courses are worth is listed next to the course.

You can look up the descriptions for all of their courses right on line.

The descriptions of the courses that they take follow the list of their course requirements for the school of dentistry. The descriptions for the biology major can be obtained from the BU site as well under undergraduate programs, CAS departments and programs, biology. You can also see what your MD must take, listed under the medical school.

The number of credits that a dentist takes in each subject is listed next to the subject below for many of the courses. The number of credits were taken right from their on line course catalog. As soon as a dental student has completed their first year of courses, they are done with their general medicine. You can see exactly how much coverage they are getting in these fields. If you look at the BU site, you can also see that they are required to have some basic biology going into dental school. The minimal requirement is at the 100 level of coursework. BU requires 3 years of education to get into dental school. Most schools require only 2 years with roughly the same mandatory requirements in general biology, chemistry and math.

A biology major at BU, the minimum requirements, from the BU site:

Concentration in Biology (0401)

The concentration requirements for biology include nine courses in the department and a number of related science courses. Following two prerequisite semesters of Introductory Biology (CAS BI 107 and 108), students select at least one course from each of the following areas: physiology, endocrinology, and neurobiology (PER/Neuro), cell and molecular biology (CM), and ecology, behavior, and evolution (EBE). Of the seven courses taken beyond CAS BI 107 and 108, five must be taken in the department, at least three courses must be at the 300-500 level, and three must have a laboratory or field component.


BU Dental School:


Predoctoral DMD BA/DMD

Dental Medicine

Liberal Arts/Dental Medicine

(offered with College of Arts and Sciences)

Classroom and Laboratory Curriculum for the DMD Degree

The First Year

During the first year students take in-depth courses in the basic biologic sciences that are foundational to dental practice. These courses are separate and distinct from the courses taught to medical students and are taught jointly by the faculties of the Schools of

Medicine and Dental Medicine.

First Year Courses for dentists

Biochemistry …………………………………………………2 credits

Personal and Professional Ethics

Introduction to Dental Practice

Preventive Dentistry

Anatomical Sciences I 3 credits

Physiology/Endocrinology/Neurophysiology ………….3 credits {1 credit per topic}

Dental Anatomy…………………………………………… 1 credit

Molecular Genetics …………………………………………0.5 credits

Growth and Development …………………………………1 credit

Anatomical Sciences II …………………………………….3 credits


Microbiology and Immunology …………………………..2 credits {1 credit per topic}

Evidence-Based Practice

Oral Biology I………………………………………………. 1 credit.

Preclinical Operative Dentistry I

Integrated Problems in Practice Management I


Total 14.5 credits in general medicine topics. Every course they take after this semester is modified for their field.

The Second Year

The second year comprises the basic, preclinical, and clinical sciences. As the focus shifts to the clinical sciences, clinical simulation develops skills in the clinical sciences of operative dentistry, fixed prosthodontics, removable prosthodontics, pediatric dentistry, endodontics and occlusion, leading toward patient care. A problem-based course that spans the second-year APEX experience challenges students to discuss the business of dental practice and the psychology and ethics of patient care.


Second Year Courses

Pathology ………………………………………………….3 credits

Biology of Disease ……………………………………….2 credits


Preclinical Operative Dentistry II

Preclinical Fixed Prosthodontics

Preclinical Removable Prosthodontics

Periodontology I …………………………………………3 credits

Oral Diagnosis and Radiology


Oral Biology II ……………………………………………2 credits

Pain Control I

Preclinical Pediatric Dentistry

Integrated Problems in Practice Management II

Orthodontics I

Preclinical Endodontics

Treatment Planning

Behavioral Sciences

National Board Dental Examination Preparation I



The Third Year

The third and fourth years are a combination of coursework and clinical care. As a member of a mentorship team, the student assumes increasingly greater responsibility for patients, treats more complex dental needs, and has increasing exposure to the specialty disciplines of dentistry. Students are supported and guided in their development as clinical care providers through the faculty mentoring program.

Third Year Courses

Pharmacology ………………………………………………3 credits

Dental Care Perspectives, Ethics, and the Law

Oral Pathology ……………………………………………..2 credits

Periodontology II ………………………………………….1 credit

Oral Surgery

Orthodontics II

Pain Control II

Physical Diagnosis

Aesthetic Dentistry

Removable Prosthodontics

Fixed Prosthodontics

Operative Dentistry

Pediatric Dentistry

Oral Diagnosis/Oral Medicine


The Fourth Year

The fourth year is designed for flexibility to allow the senior student to pursue his or her particular interests and concentrate on achieving excellence in clinical patient care, as well as to give him or her the opportunity to participate in research and community-service activities. The clinical curriculum comprises approximately 2,000 hours in the third and fourth years.

Fourth Year Courses

Geriatric Dentistry Seminar

Implantology Seminar

Clinicopathology Conference

Practice Management Seminar

Treatment Planning Seminar

National Board Dental Examination Preparation Part II

Northeast Regional Board Preparation

The Comprehensive Care Curriculum

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