Dentists diagnose and treat conditions affecting the mouth, teeth and gums. Dentists provide preventive care and oral hygiene advice along with performing root canals, implants, extractions, bridges, and inspections. They use x-rays and examinations to diagnose issues. Dentists use specialized equipment to treat a multitude of conditions and some specialize in certain areas of dentistry to better treat patients.
Dentists are some of the most important healthcare professionals as they help treat and care for individuals who might be suffering from any oral health concern or tooth and enamel condition. Dentists are also some of the most autonomous healthcare professionals as they have to manage several different things at once and coordinate closely with other dental assistants who might be working directly with patients and treating them on a daily basis.
The next component of a Dentist's job description is to work closely with patients to educate them about the various teeth, gum, and oral conditions they might develop if they don't properly maintain and keep their oral health up to standard. This might involve educating each patient about the proper methods and techniques to keep their teeth, mouth, and gums clean, or some education about what might happen if they don't. This will also involve the education about any resources they need to begin using like specialized toothbrushes, medical devices, oral products they should use, and more.
One unique thing that separates Dentists from other healthcare professionals is that they are like Anesthesthesiologists in the fact that they are the only healthcare professionals who can administer all levels of sedation on their own.
Dentists are also responsible for performing surgery depending on their role and job. Dentists might be responsible for simple cleanings and education, or they might also be responsible for performing surgeries depending on what they specialize in.
Like many other Medical Doctor or Physician career opportunities, Dentists have the opportunity to specialize in different fields of Dentistry. Currently, there are nine potential specializations that involve different responsibilities and functions. The following specializations for Dentists are below:
• Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
This specialization for Dentists is responsible for performing various operations and medical procedures and surgeries on patients who might be suffering in their jaws, gums, teeth, mouth, neck, or head area. Typically, these procedures and surgeries are focused on improving some of the issues that might be currently impacting their teeth or oral structure.
Some common procedures that an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Dentist can perform include repairing cleft lips, cleft palate repair, and repairing or removing impacted teeth. These dentists focus on some of the more complicated procedures that need extensive procedures or deep levels of sedation to perform the surgery successfully.
The next Dentist specialization is becoming an Endodontist. These Dentists specialize in performing root canal therapy. Root canals are a tricky problem, and they require intervention to make sure they don't get any worse. Endodontists are responsible for performing various procedures in which they remove the nerves and blood supply to the affected, injured, and infected teeth.
Root canals are tiny passages that contain tissue known as pulp, blood vessels, and nerves. When these become injured or infected, an Endodontist is tasked with treating the root canal or potentially removing the affected teeth. Often, most Dentists will refer patients to Endodontists for an evaluation or next-steps in the event that they feel their patient might be suffering from a root canal.
Periodontists are Dentists who specialize in gums and gum disease. This specialty of dentistry revolves around the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of various diseases that could affect a patient's gums or supporting structures around the teeth. Tese healthcare professionals are focused on also recognizing whether or not intervention surgery is required to resolve some of the severe gum diseases that a patient could be suffering from, and ultimately get the patient back on track to a healthy mouth.
Periodontists aren't just responsible for gums and gum disease, they are also responsible for the bones that surround the gum and support the teeth.
• Pediatric Dentists
This dentist specialization is for those dental healthcare professionals who don't mind working closely with children or interacting with them to get them excited about maintaining their teeth and oral health. These types of dentists specialize in working closely with children from their infancy to their early teen years. Children often require closer monitoring as it helps to ensure the proper development and care of their oral structure as they develop.
Pediatric Dentists are also responsible for providing routine exams or cleanings when necessary, in addition to any counseling that a parent might need for their child. Pediatric Dentists are also responsible for filling any cavities, or diagnosis and treatments of oral conditions that might directly affect young children as they develop. Specializing in pediatrics is great for those healthcare professionals who enjoy working with children and some of the unique challenges that they bring to the table.
• Oral Pathologists
Oral Pathologists are responsible for the study of diseases and afflictions that might alter or affect the overall structure in the mouth for patients, in addition to areas on the neck and face. These healthcare professionals are focused on conducting research to evaluate several questions that might arise from oral diseases and conditions. Some of these questions might revolve around, where did the disease originate from, what predisposes some people to contracting the disease over others, and more.
Oral Pathologists are also responsible for diagnosing conditions in the mouth like cancer, ulcers, oral diseases, and bumps.
• Dental Public Health Specialists
This specialization for Dentists and dentistry is closely related to Public Health and Community Health Worker healthcare professionals, as Dental Public Health Specialists are largely focused on promoting good health techniques and education about prevention of dental diseases in their local communities.
These Dentists spend a large chunk of their time trying to come up with and implement training and educational materials that will help improve the overall oral health and wellness within their community.
If you're like the majority, then you've probably been to an Orthodontist for a consultation or guidance on how to properly align your teeth as they're developing or adjust them once they've already fully developed. Specializing in Orthodontistry for Dentists means that they focus on properly aligning crooked or misaligned teeth that might lead to a crossbite, underbite, or overbite.
Orthodontists are the ones who help solve these solutions with spacers, expanders, retainers, and braces to adjust the overall structure of the mouth. In some cases, Orthodontists will also recommend that a patient uses headgear to maintain the structure of their newly aligned mouth.
• Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologists
This specialization for Dentistry is focused around identifying diseases in the mouth, head, and neck area through the use of radiology and imaging techniques and devices. Unfortunately, Dentists cannot identify everything that is wrong with a patient from a simple oral examination, and they might require some additional steps or procedures to be conducted to get an accurate gauge on what is going on with their patient. In those circumstances, Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologists are called upon to provide some more clarity with what might be going on.
These healthcare professionals are responsible for fixing any structural issues in a patient's mouth with permanent fixtures like crowns, bridges, dental prosthetics, and other removable oral structures like dentures. These healthcare professionals are responsible for helping restore and replace damaged and lost teeth. The goal of Prosthodontists is to make sure that each patient is confident in their smile and their prosthetic dental structures make their mouth look completely natural and are comfortable.
In addition to the ones we've mentioned above, Prosthodontists can also assist patients with crowns, dental implants, fixed bridges, reconstructive dentistry, and porcelain veneers.
These different specializations allow for Dentists to work in a field that they're truly interested in, and assist patients in a variety of ways. Another aspect of a Dentist's job description is to be caring, open to questions that a patient might have, communicative, and always strive for assisting patients in any way they can with their dental health knowledge.
To learn more about all the responsibilities that a Dentist might have, continue reading our Responsibilities of a Dentist section.
Most dentists practice general dentistry. General dentists treat all patients in many different settings and are responsible for the following duties:
Use techniques and equipment to examine the head and neck and oral cavity to identify and diagnose oral conditions and determine oral health.
Use specialized diagnostic techniques to identify diseases of the teeth and oral cavity tissues.
Restore and replace teeth damaged by decay, trauma or disease, with implants, crowns and bridges.
Perform corrective surgery on gums to treat gum disease.
Extract teeth when necessary.
Eliminate pain from oral diseases, conditions, and trauma, with medicine.
Correct the position of teeth to improve chewing, speech, and appearance.
Oversee the business side of private practice and supervise staff.
Evaluate the overall health of their patients.
Provide instruction and advice on oral health care and preventive measures.
Provide instruction and advice on oral health care, including individualized diet analysis, brushing and flossing techniques, the use of fluoridated products and other specialized preventive measures.
Straighten teeth to correct bite issues.
Place sealants and whitening agents on teeth.
Write prescriptions for antibiotics.
Fit patients with dental appliances.
Administer anesthetics to keep patients from feeling discomfort.
Meet with patients to discuss dental options and procedures.
Work closely with other healthcare professionals.
Stay up to date with continuing education credits and research topics and advancements.
Dentists are responsible for using various techniques and tools to perform regular cleanings for patients. Regular cleanings are a key component to making sure that each patient has a healthy mouth and their teeth and gums don't have any diseases or afflictions that might cause a patient future problems or discomfort. Some patients are stubborn when it comes to understanding the importance of proper oral care habits and techniques to make sure that the routine cleanings go just fine.
Regular dental cleanings that a Dentist might conduct will also revolve around removing any decay or plaque that has built upon a patient's teeth or the surrounding gums. Over time, this plaque can cause significant issues for a patient if left untreated, and it might even cause cavities to develop over time in a patient's tooth. In the event that a patient develops a cavity, Dentists are responsible for filling the removing the plaque and then filling the cavity to rebuild the structure and proper functionality of the tooth or affected teeth.
The next part of a regular cleaning that a Dentist is responsible for is providing any sealants and whitening agents for a patient's teeth. Sealants ensure that teeth remain cleaner for a longer period of time, and whitening agents help improve the cosmetic appearance.
Part of this process will also involve a Dentist review and provide any repairs to a patient's teeth that might be fractured or cracked. In what may be a rare occurrence, sometimes we might have the best oral care and our teeth become brittle as we age. Dentists can help provide some feedback and guidance on some preventive measures that can be taken to make sure that our teeth are the healthiest they can be, and we're doing everything we can to have strong teeth.
The next responsibility that Dentists have as part of their daily routine is to be ready to remove teeth from a patient. Complications can arise where a patient needs to have a tooth or several teeth removed because they are causing an issue, and these are often simple extractions or more complex procedures like root canals. As we've highlighted earlier, Dentists are tasked with providing anesthesia in these scenarios to ensure that patients aren't experiencing any unnecessary discomfort during the procedure.
The next key responsibility for Dentists is to evaluate a patient's bite pattern and structure. In some cases, a patient will require extensive straightening or adjustment to make sure that their bite pattern is correct and that the bite process is functioning properly. For those patients who are suffering from a bite issue, general dentists might refer a patient to an Orthodontist. For those Dentists who are Orthodontists, an evaluation will be conducted to determine whether or not corrective measures must be taken — and then participate in getting the patient to a healthy standpoint with those corrective measures.
As we briefly mentioned earlier, another important responsibility for Dentists is that they are responsible for providing general anesthesia to patients when necessary. Dentists and Anesthesiologists are the only two medical professionals who are allowed to provide all forms of anesthesia to patients. Various medical and dental procedures require significant amounts of anesthesia or only a little bit. It's up to the Dentist to determine how much is necessary and to closely monitor the patient as they are interacting with them and performing various procedures.
Dentists are also responsible for writing prescriptions and providing prescriptions to their patients for preventive or proactive measures. These prescriptions largely revolve around antibiotics, medical devices, or specialized dental medicine. For instance, one prescription that a Dentist might write could be for enhanced toothpaste for a patient that is suffering from certain bone conditions or medical-grade mouthwash for their oral care.
The next responsibility for Dentists is to take measurements and readings for various dental appliances that a patient might need. These dental appliances could be certain dental fixtures like dentures or other dental prosthetics. Since every person is different, there isn't a one-size fits all approach when it comes to dental prosthetics. Dentists need to take accurate measurements that typically take several different attempts before they can settle on the appropriate size and fit for each patient.
Once the Dentist has taken the accurate measurements and ordered the proper dental prosthetic, Dentists are then responsible for the proper fitting and adjustment for each patient.
Another core responsibility that Dentists have in their role is to properly educate and teach their patients about proper dental habits and oral care practices. Part of this process involves educating patients about things they might not be familiar with, like nutrition. Nutrition plays a vital role in our oral wellness, and there are certain foods that will lead to the breakdown of our enamel quicker than others. For instance, coffee has a tendency to stain teeth, and carbonated beverages tend to break down our teeth because of the acidic content.
Dentists play an important role in educating patients about the proper foods they should eat to help build strong oral cleaning habits. In addition, this process involves educating patients about the proper techniques they should use when brushing their teeth, how to floss properly, what types of mouthwash to use, the purpose of fluoride, and more.
The next core responsibility, which is one that nearly every single Dentist will have each day is to interact with and correspond with patients to answer and resolve any dental concerns that the patient might have. As we've highlighted earlier, Dentists have to accommodate each patient's knowledge-base to make sure that they're on the proper path to a healthy well-being. Some patients will be more familiar with topics and less aware of other topics when it comes to proper oral health.
Dentists have to communicate effectively and succinctly with each patient to determine their knowledge and make sure that they have all the tools to succeed in taking care of their mouth and gums.
The next important responsibility that Dentists have as part of their routine is to know which tools and medical equipment to use and when. There are plenty of medical devices, equipment, and tools that a Dentist can use when caring for each patient.
For instance there are plenty of drills, brushes, mirrors, lasers, probes, handpieces, wrenches, excavators, and more that a Dentist can use to accomplish different tasks. Dentists have to use their expert knowledge to know which tools are best for certain scenarios and most importantly know when certain tools are unnecessary.
Dentists are also responsible for keeping accurate medical records for each patient. These medical records consist of their visit history, treatment history, oral condition, notes, patient comments and concerns, and more. Keeping accurate and updated medical records is important in the event that a patient has a complication come up. These records will serve as a resource for the Dentist and his co-workers when they need to evaluate whether or not it's a chronic issue, a hereditary issue, or if it's a new issue that has recently arisen.
In addition, these records will serve the next healthcare professional or Dentist that the patient visits to make sure that the next healthcare professional has all the tools and resources they need to properly treat the patient. The more work that the healthcare professional has to do to evaluate a patient's history and prior medical treatments, the longer a patient has to wait before they can receive adequate care.
Another core responsibility for Dentists is to work closely with other healthcare professionals. As we've highlighted before, working in the healthcare industry requires a collaborative process, and Dentists must become accustomed to working with other healthcare professionals who all have different personalities and team dynamic habits.
The next thing that Dentists must be responsible for, along with nearly all other healthcare professionals, is to stay up to date with their continuing education credits and news about the healthcare and dental industry. Completion of continuing education credits is important for healthcare professionals to ensure that they are staying up to date with all the new research, working theories, new equipment, technology applications, and more. For more information on continuing education credits for Dentists, take a look at our friends at DocsEducation, which has some of the best dental continuing education you can review.
For those individuals who are passionate about potentially becoming a Dentist, there are several common activities that you can expect to perform on the job daily. These common activities will provide an insight into what a normal day and routine might look like for you as a Dentist if you choose to pursue this healthcare career.
• Examine Teeth, Gums, and Related Tissues
The most common activity for all Dentists, regardless of their specialization, is to examine the teeth, gums, and surrounding tissues for each patient. As we've covered earlier, this is to help the Dentist potentially identify any problems or causes for concern that a patient might need to be aware of.
• Interact With Patients
The next most common activity for Dentists on the job is to interact with patients. In many cases, this interaction will be with the patient themselves, but on other occasions it will also involve interacting with a patient's family members. This will be to inform them about future care plans, current patient concerns, general education, and more.
Caring for a patient often means that they have a support system so they can have someone help them be accountable with their dental care and oral habits. Family members are great when it comes to accountability, and Dentists will have to be comfortable interacting with both patients and their family members.
• Use Masks and Protective Equipment
Dentists must use masks and other protective equipment every single time they work directly with a patient and examine them. These masks and protective equipment help to ensure that the Dentist isn't needlessly exposed to any infectious diseases or illnesses that might be related to being in close proximity to the patient.
Much of the protective equipment will be breathing masks, eyewear, gloves, and in some rare cases a full cleaning suit.
• Use a Variety of Dental Instruments
Dentists will also be tasked with using a variety of dental instruments to evaluate a patient's dental health. Throughout a Dentist's training and education, they will become familiar with using each type of tool and when certain tools are better than others for various situations. These tools are designed to help Dentists identify the dental health of the patient, diagnose diseases, and plan appropriate treatments based on what they identify with the equipment and tools.
• Develop Patient Treatment Plans
The next common activity for Dentists is to work with their patients to develop a treatment plan that helps get them on the path to an improved oral well-being. Patient treatment plans might be lengthy or short depending on the nature of the problem that the patient is dealing with.
Part of developing these treatment plans are designed to ensure that a patient doesn't relapse or suffer from bad habits in regards to their oral care. In addition, this means that education might be provided for some of the obscure things that a patient might not understand as it relates to their care.
• Design or Develop Dental Prosthetics
In some cases, dental prosthetics are absolutely necessary to get a patient's mouth, teeth, and gums to perform adequately and function properly. Some patients need dental prosthetics to assist them with regaining proper structure and functionality, and a Dentist needs to use their expertise to evaluate whether or not a prosthetic has to be made for the patient.
In the cases where a patient does need a prosthetic, they might be capable of making one on their own, or ask for a specialized dentist to craft one that would work properly with the patient based on comprehensive molds and measurements.
• Assist with Education Materials
Dentists are often called upon to assist educational companies and text publishers to assist them with the creation of university and medical school textbooks and accurate drawings to educate the future wave of healthcare professionals.
• Coordinate and Interact with Other Healthcare Professionals
The next common activity for Dentists is to coordinate and interact with other healthcare professionals on a daily basis. As we've highlighted earlier, the healthcare industry is a collaborative environment that requires multiple healthcare professionals working in conjunction with one another to provide the best medical care to their patients.
Must be able to clearly convey thoughts and ideas about patient issues. Teach patient about preventative measures and be transparent about their oral health.
Monitoring/Assessing patient to make sure they respond well to treatment and make improvements or take corrective action when necessary.
Must use logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
Judgment and Decision Making
Needs to be able to act autonomously and make difficult decisions that would benefit the patient or make corrections. Must consider all benefits and repercussions of potential actions and choose the appropriate one.
Complex Problem Solving
Must be able to identify complex problems and develop and evaluate corrective options and implement solutions.
Must be trustworthy because you are guardian of people's health. You have a responsibility to ensure the correct treatment and diagnosis of patient and must be able to see it through.
Be meticulous in your work. Work on small things like teeth and in small areas, so you have to be careful about your tasks.
Must be able to oversee business tasks and manage employees as dentists mostly own their practice.
Must work well with your hands, as they are your main tool for your job and you work in small spaces (the mouth).
Many Dentists own their practice, so they enjoy autonomy and comfortable working conditions. Most have normal work schedules and regular hours at about 40 a week.Many have the flexibility to chooses the number of hours they work.
They work closely with people every day and usually oversee other employee tasks. Their environment is usually an indoor office and they usually wear a lab coat, gloves, masks, and safety glasses.
They also work around radiation since they X-ray patients, which means they have the risk of that exposure.
To learn more about what it takes to become a Dentist, take a look at our comprehensive Dentist Career Path.
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