You’re right! Dentists typically have a D.D.S. or a D.M.D. (completely equivalent degrees, just depends on the school). My training was unique in that I also decided to do a Ph.D.
I started doing scientific research in high school. I have always been a hands on learner, so it was fun for me to be learning from a book but also applying that knowledge and critically thinking about it in the research setting. My project from high school resulted in my first co-authorship in a peer-reviewed journal! I continued to work in different labs throughout college for the same reason. I enjoyed the whole process of learning different research techniques, figuring out what we know about a topic and what we need to learn and then figuring out a way to find the answer.
My last year in college I did a thesis project looking at the shape of carnivore teeth and the link to their diet. This information could help us learn about diet of extinct species based on their shapes of their teeth. I took impressions of jaws from the Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh and from the collection at Duke. My project was later published along with the supervising Ph.D. student I was working under. I also was able to present my work twice during a poster session at Duke.
My dream had always been to be a dentist. I envisioned myself working a long career then in my retirement working at a school and teaching and being involved with research projects. When University of Maryland approached me about their dual degree D.D.S. and Ph.D. program my eyes lit up! I started to explore the idea of who I would work with and got connected to Dr. Rebecca German at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who had a background similar to mine in Biological Anthropology but did research that was very clinically translatable studying swallowing physiology. I decided to enroll in the program. I completed 2 years of dental school, then focused on my Ph.D. work for 3 years until I defended and after my defense I returned to dental school to complete my 2 clinical years. It was an amazing experience!
My research was about understanding the role of oral sensory information during suckling in infants. By giving local anesthetic to numb oral sensory areas, we were able to understand how this information helps signal the coordination of the suck, swallow and respiratory cycles. I was able to be published as a first author in the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, Journal of Physiology and Dysphagia. I presented my research at national and international meetings and was recognized with a grant to fund my graduate work.
While I am not actively involved in research at the moment, my training has allowed me to confidently be able to evaluate scientific literature and to make evidence based treatment decisions. I am always striving to learn more through continuing education and always go to primary research when evaluating new products or materials. I use my research training on a daily basis and I believe it has made me a strong clinician as well.