Skip to main content
In Canada, as a general dentist there is no limitation on the scope of practice, making it an attractive career path for those looking to care for a diverse range of oral healthcare needs. But there are also multiple reasons you may want to specialize. Here are 6 questions to help you understand more about the dental specialty program in Canada.

(1) Why choose a dental specialty?

People choose to continue their education to become a dental specialist for different reasons, like it may give them increased job satisfaction, career opportunities, and the challenge of helping patients beyond the scope of a traditional practice.

For Dr. Maneesh Sharma, president of the Canadian Dental Specialties Association (CDSA), he believes passion for a particular area of oral health is the most significant reason to consider choosing a dental specialty. For example, specialists can manage advanced procedures, help infants and children, or care for patients with complex medical histories.

“Specialties allow you to deep dive into one specific area,” he says. “You want to ensure you have the basic tools to excel, regardless of the specialty you choose.”

(2) What are the dental specialties in Canada?

The Canadian Dental Specialties Association recognizes nine dental specialties:

For a more detailed breakdown of each specialty, visit the CDSA.

(3) What are the benefits of choosing a dental specialty?

“There is great demand for specialists. There’s work everywhere … it won’t take long for a new practice to get busy,” says Dr. Sharma.

Dr. Sharma says although dental specialists make up a small fraction of the oral healthcare workforce, there are many benefits to choosing a specialty.

  • Approximately 11% of dentists in Canada were dental specialists, with the most being orthodontics.
  • Specialists are mostly concentrated in large urban areas and especially in Ontario, where more need for specialists can be seen outside the urban centres and Ontario.
  • Demands for specialty services also differ for each discipline, for example, currently there is a shortage of dental public health specialists in both rural and urban areas.
  • Also, specialists often deal with referrals of challenging and complex treatment plans, which can be an exciting and rewarding opportunity to provide high-quality patient care.

“Patients appreciate the work you do because they see the time you take in a professional, controlled environment, and they are happy they’ve come for specialized treatment once it’s done,” says Dr. Sharma. “They can move on with their life, and whatever discomfort they had, it’s been taken care of.”

(4) What are the challenges of choosing a dental specialty?

Specialty programs can be quite costly. For example, an MSc in Endodontics from the University of Toronto for 2021-22 costs more than $30,000 annually for a three-year program.

These programs can also be highly competitive, with some schools only accepting a handful of applicants yearly. But Dr. Sharma encourages new graduates not to be disheartened if unsuccessful the first time and to continue upgrading their skills and application through internships, residencies or continued education. “Persistence will pay off,” he says.

(5) How do I decide what dental specialty to choose?

“Dentists have to take the time to identify their true interests, and when you graduate school, you may not necessarily have enough experience to know where your interests lie,” says Dr. Sharma.

He recommends graduates start with internships. These may be between years of dental school, a 1-2 year General Practice Residency (GPR) program, or an Education in General Dentistry (EGD).

“These programs are quite popular for grads. A GPR in a hospital-based setting might involve experience in oral surgery, endodontics, periodontal surgery and implants, which can help light someone’s fire. Or, through an EGD at a dental school, a graduate might get more experience in doing prosthodontics, full mouth reconstructions, and aesthetic dentistry. They might find an area that stokes their interest.”

Visit the Canadian Dental Specialties Association (CDSA) to learn more about these programs.

(6) How soon should I choose a specialty?

The good news is you can decide to specialize at any point in your dental career. Dr. Sharma says you needn’t be in a rush to jump into a specialty right after getting your dentistry degree. “Taking the time to gain experience and be exposed to different facets of the field may decrease your debt burden — and it can help you hone your skills while confirming where your passions truly lie.”

Ultimately, he says your passion and interest in a field are the most important deciding factors in choosing your specialty.

“You should like what you’re doing. And if you provide good quality care, your practice will be successful, regardless of whether it’s in general dentistry or specialty,” he says.

Related stories: