Answering the Real Question: Are Dentists Doctors?

From the dawn of time, there have been numerous speculations over the fact that dentists may not be doctors. Some go as far as to say this particular career choice may be grouped under the ‘technician’ or some sort of ‘physician’ category.

In our Pakistani society, dentistry as a profession is considered one that is inferior to MBBS degrees. There has been a sort of flow chart of medical degrees, set into society in descending order of importance far before children had even decided what they wanted to be when they grew up.

In the gatherings of uncles, aunties and their kids studying medicine, dentistry being an inferior profession has been a common topic for ages. Parents, whose children have secured admission in MBBS programs seemed to rejoice, show pride, and throw grand parties in celebration.

Parents of children that secured admission in dentistry or any other degree, either by choice or not, expressed their discomfiture in revealing this fact, for this would not be well received in their social circles.

As expected, the news would be followed by pitying glances, a consoling pat on the shoulder, and the disheartening ‘’she can try again next year’’. The attempt to pre-define how a parent must feel about their child’s career choice only because it does not fall under the societally set norms is something every dental student and his/her parents can resonate with.

This discrimination follows far into university life as well. The haughty MBBS students treat the BDS students poorly. An animosity generates amongst the students of these two programs, which in turn negatively impacts those who study dentistry as they become insecure about their own career choice.

To put things into perspective, it is important to point out that the curriculum for the MBBS and BDS students for the first two years of their degrees is the same. Both programs require students to take courses like Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, Pharmacology, and Pathology to progress into their clinical years.

According to The Pakistan Medical Council, both programs are referred to as doctoral degrees. Graduates of both programs require licensure to practice and are legally allowed to add the prefix ‘Dr.’ before their names.

It is also widely assumed that dentists are those professionals that primarily examine the teeth. This assumption is untrue. Specialization in the surgery aspect of dentistry promotes a general dentist into an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon. Other specialities in the fields of dentistry are those of an endodontist, periodontist, and orthodontist.

In instances of road traffic accidents where the jaws, teeth, and cheek areas are severely damaged, these surgeons from dental backgrounds are called in to perform crucial and lengthy surgeries.

Oral surgeons are also entrusted to treat oral cysts and tumours as well as malignant cancers.

Similarly, it is only an orthodontist that can examine, diagnose and treat the irregularities of teeth alignment.

The dental degree, therefore, teaches graduates the entire body anatomy. However, focuses more on the head and neck region with respect to its blood and nerve supplies, as well as the disease pathologies and drug reactions. Medical degrees provide knowledge of as well as focus on the whole body.

The misconception that the dental degree is of 4 years whereas the medical degree is of 5 years because BDS is ‘easier’ is also something that needs to be brought to light.

Neither degree is ‘easier’ than the other. Dental students are required by all administrative staff of universities across the country to complete their basic science courses one year earlier than MBBS students. While the MBBS degree provides more time for students to learn the entire bodily anatomy and physiology, dental students are required to study it all and finish their courses earlier in order to focus on the additional dental-related subjects like Oral Biology and Dental Materials.

The perspective around dentistry being an inferior career choice in the medical field is an opinion that is far outdated. Dentistry as a field has no comparison to MBBS degrees other than the basic science courses that students of both programs have to take.

Conclusively, dentistry focuses its neurological and haematological knowledge specifically on the head and neck region, as they should, considering that this is their area of expertise. The idea that a dentist is someone that only pulls out, or replaces teeth, is one of ignorance. Dentists today practice not only clinical dentistry but are licensed to practice cosmetic facial procedures in Pakistan and abroad.

Therefore, the discussion of ‘which is better or more important?’ is futile. Both programs are co-dependent.

In the larger scheme of things, it is safe to say that Dentistry is just as important a profession, if not more, as Medicine. At the end of the day, one will not opt for a general physician for their severe toothache, nor will they go to a dentist for their cough. Neither is licensed to treat the other.


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