What Is a Dentist?

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on July 16, 2023
3 min read

Dentists are trained professionals who help care for the teeth and mouth. Regularly seeing a dentist can help you to maintain a good level of dental health, which may have a direct impact on your overall well-being.

A dentist has many responsibilities, and one of the most important is promoting good dental hygiene. This helps to prevent complications in your mouth or other parts of the body.

A dentist also diagnoses and treats problems of the gums, teeth, and mouth. Dentists use modern technology and equipment like X-ray machines, lasers, drills, brushes, scalpels, and other medical tools when performing dental procedures. They also wear protective equipment like gloves, masks, and safety glasses to prevent the spread of germs or bacteria.

Some common dentistry tasks include:

  • Teaching people about dental hygiene
  • Filling cavities
  • Removing buildup or decay from teeth
  • Repairing or removing damaged teeth
  • Reviewing X-rays and diagnostics
  • Giving anesthesia
  • Putting in fillings or sealants
  • Checking the growth of teeth and jawbones.

Dentistry requires a team approach, and the dentist is the leader. Working with the dentist are dental assistants, hygienists, and lab technicians. Together, the team ensures that people get quality dental care.

A dentist is a doctor, so they complete a path of study that’s similar to that of a medical doctor. The first step is to complete an undergraduate program in a related field like biology, chemistry, health, or math, and earn a bachelor of science degree. Next is a dental admissions test, which you need to take to apply for dental schools.

The training process includes:

  • Completing two years of biomedical science studies, followed by two years of clinical practice
  • Earning a doctor of dental surgery (DDS) or doctor of dental medicine (DDM) degree
  • Getting a dental license by passing written and practical exams

Dentists may then choose to get certified by taking the National Board Dental Examination. Depending on the area of specialty, dentists may have to complete a postgraduate residency of one to three years.

Dentists can choose to specialize in one of the following areas, each of which requires a postgraduate residency:

  • Dental public health
  • Endodontics
  • Oral and maxillofacial pathology
  • Oral and maxillofacial radiology
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery
  • Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics
  • Pediatric dentistry
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics

There are several reasons to see a dentist, and it’s important to go for a dental checkup every six months.

Preventive Care

First, your dentist will check for any signs of mouth cancer, gum problems, or dental decay. Checking on these things regularly helps to prevent more serious problems down the road.

Your dental hygienist will also clean your teeth to remove plaque and tartar buildup, which are causes of tooth decay and gum disease. Together, your dentist and hygienist can give you some tips on how to best take care of your teeth at home.

Pain or Discomfort

If you’re feeling pain or discomfort in your teeth, mouth, jaws, or gums, it’s time to see a dentist. Pain or swelling in the neck, mouth, or face can be a sign that something isn’t right. Similarly, if you notice your gums are bleeding or if you’re having trouble chewing or swallowing, you should also schedule a dental care visit to see what the causes could be.

Maintenance and Health

If you have already had a dental procedure, it’s important to make sure that everything is still as it should be. If you’re pregnant, actively using tobacco, or dealing with ongoing medical issues, a dentist can help help coordinate your health care with your medical doctor.