The general dentist has a variety of job roles which are discussed below. There are also nine dental specialties which have more specific duties.
Dentists diagnose and treat problems related to the teeth and tissues in the mouth. Dentists use many instruments to help in the diagnoses process including x-rays, mirrors, probes, and digital technology. A big part of being a dentist is being able to diagnose. A dentist must be able to read and understand radiographs, look at a lesions or problems in a person’s mouth, evaluate the way teeth come together and come up with diagnoses to help patients.
Dentists also help prevent problems. One of the great things about being a dentist is that there are ways in which we can prevent problems rather than just treating them. Dentists can instruct in good oral hygiene including brushing and flossing. Dentists can teach and educate about fluoride and its benefits to tooth structure. Dentists can talk about diet and nutrition and its benefit to the teeth and the mouth. I studied nutritional science as an undergraduate, and I see a lot of overlap between nutrition and dentistry. What patients eat does affect their teeth, mouth and overall oral hygiene.
After proper diagnosis, dentists work with their hands to remove tooth decay. This is the traditional filling where dentists will use drills and hand instruments to take decay out of teeth and restore them with various materials like composites, amalgams, or glass ionomers. Dentists also frequently place prosthetic restorations like crowns and bridges.
Dentists use anesthesia to keep patients out of pain. A dentist is trained in giving injections to stop pain via multiple nerve blocks. Dentists can also use oral sedation methods, like prescribing medications to help sedate patients before procedures. Dentists can use nitrous oxide gas or laughing gas to help patients feel comfortable during procedures. With more education dentists can do IV sedation which is where the patient is not asleep but almost asleep in a sedated state.
Dentists can extract teeth, take biopsies of tissue, modify gum tissue, sometimes using lasers or hot instruments, reshape bone and correct a variety of soft and hard tissue problems.
Dentists make a variety of prosthetic devices. This is when you are making a device to replace natural tissues, like crowns to replace broken teeth, bridges to fill gaps, and dentures to replace all missing teeth.
Dentists are also working with implants, which are titanium structures placed in the bone. These implants allow crowns to be seated in spaces where teeth are once missing.
Dentists can also write prescriptions for antibiotics, pain killers, and other medications.
Dentists are also in many cases performing administrative tasks. This includes buying equipment and supplies, managing payroll, hiring and firing employees, marketing, and being the manager in the practice.
Dentists also have a role to play in the community which includes educating the public about oral health care matters, evaluating the oral health care of communities, and working with other medical establishments to ensure that communities are being treated well.