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Dental Specialists

What is a dental specialist?

A dental specialist is a fully qualified dentist registered with the General Dental Council (GDC, the UK dental regulation body: see The Good Dentist Guide to Dental Regulation) who has then followed an approved programme of education and training, over several years, in their chosen specialist area. Specialists usually either work in a specialist practice, in the community dental service, or in the hospital service. 

While the GDC has the ultimate responsibility for specialist training and standards, the Dental Faculties of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons are involved in defining, inspecting and approving training programmes and overseeing and assessing a candidate’s progress. 

How does a specialist differ from a general dentist?

Any qualified and registered general dentist can work in a particular field of dentistry (such as orthodontics or oral surgery), but dentists can only call themselves a specialist in one of these particular fields of dentistry if they meet the minimum required standards of training as set by the GDC and appear on the GDC speciality lists. 

The main purpose of the speciality lists is to protect the public from misleading claims of a dentist; a specialist in a certain field of dentistry must have a certain minimum standards of training and expertise in that particular speciality, and all consultants must be on the speciality list.

What training does a general dentist undergo?

Before a dentist can practice in the UK they must be registered with the GDC; and for their registration to be accepted they must have first successfully completed five years of undergraduate training and been awarded a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS or BChD).

A dentist who qualified overseas has to satisfy the GDC that their qualification is appropriate and they may have to take additional theoretical and practical examinations before they qualify to be listed on the GDC register and practice in the UK.

As a member of the public you can check on the GDC website if any dentist or other dental professional is registered with the GDC. To visit the GDC website click here

What additional training is required to become a specialist?

This varies somewhat according to the speciality, but generally a minimum of two years structured postgraduate general training is required, often in the hospital or community dentistry services.

After this the candidate undergoes specific training in their speciality; this training has to be approved by the GDC and the Royal College of Surgeons  and can be three to five years of academic study, often undertaken while continuing to work as a specialist registrar in a hospital.

After successfully completing the training and examinations the candidate will be awarded the appropriate qualification from the Royal College of Surgeons; they can then apply for the Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training which allows them to be placed on the GDC’s specialist list for their field. 

As a member of the public you can check the specialist lists on the GDC website. To visit the GDC website click here.

What areas can dentists specialise in?

There are thirteen specialist areas:

Special Care Dentistry:

This is concerned with the improvement of the oral health of individuals and groups in society who have a physical, sensory, intellectual, mental, medical, emotional or social impairment or disability or, more often, a combination of these factors. It applies to adolescents and adults.

Oral Surgery:

This deals with the treatment and on-going management of irregularities and problems of the jaw and mouth that require surgery. 


This is the development, prevention, and correction of irregularities of the teeth, bite and jaw. 

Paediatric dentistry:

This is concerned with comprehensive therapeutic oral health care for children from birth through adolescence, including care for those who demonstrate intellectual, medical, physical, psychological and/or emotional problems.


This is concerned with the cause, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases and injuries of the tooth root, dental pulp, and surrounding tissue.


The diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases and disorders (infections and inflammatory) of the gums and other structures around the teeth


The replacement of missing teeth and the associated soft and hard tissues by artificial replacements (prostheses) such as crowns, bridges, dentures which may be fixed or removable, or may be supported and retained by implants.

Restorative dentistry:

This deals with the restoration of diseased, injured, or abnormal teeth to normal function. It includes all aspects of Endodontics, Periodontics and Prosthodontics.

Dental Public Health:

This is a non-clinical specialty involving the science and art of preventing oral diseases, promoting oral health to the population rather than the individual.  It involves the assessment of dental health needs and ensuring dental services meet those needs. 

Oral Medicine:

This is concerned with the oral health care of patients with chronic recurrent and medically related disorders of the mouth and with their diagnosis and non-surgical management.

Oral Microbiology:

This is the diagnosis and assessment of facial infection - typically bacterial and fungal disease. This is a clinical specialty undertaken by laboratory based personnel who provide reports and advice based on interpretation of microbiological samples.

Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology:

This is diagnosis and assessment made from tissue changes characteristic of disease of the oral cavity, jaws and salivary glands. This is a clinical specialty undertaken by laboratory based personnel.

Dental and Maxillofacial Radiology:

This involves all aspects of medical imaging which provide information about anatomy, function and diseased states of the teeth and jaws.



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