Oral Health Group

What’s in a Name?

March 1, 2003
by Ron Goodlin, DDS

I know this is a controversial editorial and one that may ruffle the feathers of many of my colleagues. It is not my intent to anger nor upset anyone. I hope this editorial will open some eyes and promote discussion and dialogue among ourselves and the governing bodies of dentistry so as to make our profession even better than it already is.

It is my opinion that the time has come for a new specialty to be recognized, that of “Specialist in Cosmetic Dentistry,” and in order to ease the confusion amongst the public, General Dentists should be referred to as “Family Dentists.”


It is my feeling that the governing bodies of dentistry are lagging behind in the recognition of the advancements of the new dentistry that has emerged. Politics is a difficult area, and the politics of dentistry is no different. What is acceptable to some is unacceptable to others. The mandate of the governing bodies is to protect the public, and preserve the high standards and quality of dentistry. By not recognizing the advances in dental materials and changing techniques, and the effort it takes to become proficient in these areas, the question becomes, “who are we really protecting, the public, or the status quo and dentistry’s old guard?”

General dentists, can perform orthodontics, prosthodontic treatment, gum surgery, endodontic therapy, crowns, bridges, implants and all other aspects of dentistry. The specialist however has taken extra training to become proficient in his or her area to become an expert in that field. It is no different with cosmetic dentistry.

The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry has been operating a program for several years, to provide accreditation to dentists who take many extra hours of education, and practice time to become experts in the field of cosmetic dentistry. These dentists have demonstrated the ability to provide excellent quality cosmetic procedures for their patients, with the knowledge, skills, and expertise to provide the public with a highly specialized service with greater expertise than the average dentist who has not spent the time in this or similar programs. This is not to say that there are many out there who can walk the walk, but there are many more who cannot meet the high standards of care, which is necessary to pass accreditation.

The RCDS tells us we are not allowed to tell the public that we have these extra credentials. Accreditation by the AACD is recognized and publicized in the US and worldwide, yet we in Canada are not even allowed to advertise that we have completed this extra education. How does this protect the public?

General dentists can advertise as ‘Doctor of Dental Surgery,’ which confuses the public into thinking we are oral surgeons. We are allowed to advertise as general dentists, however almost every sign you see says “family and cosmetic dentistry.” There are no such specialties. This is misleading to the public, and it is very disheartening that a dentist who has placed a few white fillings will call him or herself a cosmetic dentist, while others who have spent an entire career devoting themselves to honing their skills in a particular area are not even allowed to let the public know about these credentials.

The time has come for the governing bodies of dentistry to recognize a legitimate new specialty in dentistry. I would suggest that it begin by allowing those accredited members of the AACD to be called ‘Specialists in Cosmetic Dentistry,’ or at least grant those qualified a Diploma of Cosmetic Dentistry, which can be advertised to the public. Universities should begin their own specialty programs in the art and science of cosmetic dentistry distinct from other areas of dentistry such as restorative dentistry and prosthodontics.

I understand that there are many other areas in dentistry that have accreditation or accreditation-type programs, such as anaesthesia and implants, and perhaps there will be a time that these areas also will be granted their own specialties or diplomas.

I suggest we follow the role model of our physicians and call general dentists — family dentists, which will eliminate a lot of confusion among the public. Like now, those family dentists who want to practice cosmetics in their practice may do so. Let the public decide, with the help of their family dentist, when they want to, or need to see a specialist for any of the specialty areas, including cosmetics.

It is time to serve the public – let’s end the confusion. Family and cosmetic dentistry signs are misleading to the public and illegal according to the RCDS. The governing bodies need to legislate cosmetic dentistry as a specialty, and call general dentists, family dentists.

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