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 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.