In England, the 1878 British Dentists Act and 1879 Dentists Register limited the title of "dentist" and "dental surgeon" to qualified and registered practitioners. The practice of dentistry in the United Kingdom became fully regulated with the 1921 Dentists Act, which required the registration of anyone practicing dentistry. The British Dental Association, formed in 1880 with Sir John Tomes as president, played a major role in prosecuting dentists practicing illegally. A dentist is a healthcare professional qualified to practice dentistry after graduating with a degree of either Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD), Bachelor of Dentistry (BDent), Bachelor of Dental Science (BDSc), or Bachelor of Dental Surgery/Chirurgiae (BDS) or (BChD) or equivalent. In most western countries, to become a qualified dentist one must usually complete at least 4 years of postgraduate study. Most dentists attend at least 8 years of post secondary education obtaining both undergraduate and professional degrees before practicing. Though not mandatory, many dentists choose to complete residencies focusing on specific aspects of dental care after they have received their doctorate.
Specialists in these fields are designated registrable (U.S. "Board Eligible") and warrant exclusive titles such as orthodontist, oral and maxillofacial surgeon, endodontist, pediatric dentist, periodontist, or prosthodontist upon satisfying certain local (U.S. "Board Certified"), (Australia/NZ: "FRACDS"), or (Canada: "FRCD(C)") registry requirements.
A tenth specialty, dental anesthesiology, the study of how to relieve pain through advanced use of local and general anesthesia techniques is not yet considered to be one of the recognized dental specialties. However, CODA is in the process of accrediting all dental anesthesiology programs.
Two other post-graduate formal advanced education programs: General Practice Residency (advanced clinical and didactic training with intense hospital experience) and Advanced Education in General Dentistry (advanced training in clinical dentistry) recognized by the ADA do not lead to specialization.
The American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine (ABDSM) provides board-certification examinations annually for qualified dentists. These dentists collaborate with sleep physicians at accredited sleep centers and can provide oral appliance therapy and upper airway surgery to treat sleep-related breathing disorders. While Diplomate status granted by the ABDSM is not one of the recognized dental specialties, it is recognized by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).
Special category: Oral Biology - Research in Dental and Craniofacial Biology
Other dental education exists where no post-graduate formal university training is required: cosmetic dentistry, dental implant, temporo-mandibular joint therapy. These usually require the attendance of one or more continuing education courses that typically last for one to several days. There are restrictions on allowing these dentists to call themselves specialists in these fields. The specialist titles are registrable titles and controlled by the local dental licensing bodies.
Forensic odontology consists of the gathering and use of dental evidence in law. This may be performed by any dentist with experience or training in this field. The function of the forensic dentist is primarily documentation and verification of identity.
Geriatric dentistry or geriodontics is the delivery of dental care to older adults involving the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of problems associated with normal ageing and age-related diseases as part of an interdisciplinary team with other health care professionals.
Aviation dentistry, a subcategory of (military) aviation medicine deals with dental topics related to aircrews, e.g., dental barotrauma and barodontalgia. In addition, the aircrew population is a unique high-risk group to several diseases and harmful conditions due to irregular work shifts with irregular self-oral care habits and irregular meals (usually carbonated drinks and high energy snacks) and work-related stress.
Evidence of ancient dentistry has recently been found in a Neolithic graveyard in ancient Pakistan. Teeth dating from around 7000 to 5500 BC show evidence of holes from dental drills. The teeth were found in people of the Indus Valley Civilization. A Sumerian text from 5000 BC describes a "tooth worm" as the cause of dental caries. Evidence of this belief has also been found in ancient India, Egypt, Japan, and China. The legend of the worm is also found in the writings of Homer, and as late as the 1300s AD the surgeon Guy de Chauliac still promoted the belief that worms cause tooth decay.
The Edwin Smith Papyrus, written in the 17th century BC but which may reflect previous manuscripts from as early as 3000 BC, includes the treatment of several dental ailments. In the 18th century BC, the Code of Hammurabi referenced dental extraction twice as it related to punishment. Examination of the remains of some ancient Egyptians and Greco-Romans reveals early attempts at dental prosthetics and surgery.
Historically, dental extractions have been used to treat a variety of illnesses. During the Middle Ages and throughout the 19th century, dentistry was not a profession in itself, and often dental procedures were performed by barbers or general physicians. Barbers usually limited their practice to extracting teeth, which not only resulted in the alleviation of pain, but often cured a variety of ailments linked to chronic tooth infection. Instruments used for dental extractions date back several centuries. In the 14th century, Guy de Chauliac invented the dental pelican (resembling a pelican's beak) which was used up until the late 18th century. The pelican was replaced by the dental key which, in turn, was replaced by modern forceps in the 20th century.
The first book focused solely on dentistry was the "Artzney Buchlein" in 1530, and the first dental textbook written in English was called "Operator for the Teeth" by Charles Allen in 1685. It is said that the 17th century French physician Pierre Fauchard started dentistry science as we know it today, and he has been named "the father of modern dentistry". Among many of his developments were the extensive use of dental prosthesis, the introduction of dental fillings as a treatment for dental caries and the statement that sugar derivate acids such as tartaric acid are responsible for dental decay.