What are the Different Responsibilities of a Dentist?

Rebecca Partington

Dentists in most places carry a number of different responsibilities, but they usually fall into three broad categories: caring for patient teeth, which includes things like performing cleanings and doing different restorative procedures; educating patients and teaching them how to care for their teeth between visits; and following the rules of the licensing agency or association to which they belong. Some administrative work may also come into the mix. Dentists are often responsible for filing paperwork related to patient files and insurance claims, for instance, and may also have reporting requirements when it comes to number of patients seen and types of conditions treated. While the bulk of a dentist’s time may be spent looking into a patient’s mouth, that’s by no means the extent of it. In most places, this career track is dynamic and constantly changing.

Dentists perform procedures including tooth fillings and extractions.
Dentists perform procedures including tooth fillings and extractions.

Cleanings and Maintenance

One of the most important responsibilities of a dentist is to provide oral care to his or her patients. This can look slightly different in different places, but it generally involves examining the teeth, gums, and tongue in order to assess their health and a person’s risk for decay or infection. Dentists typically have special tools for performing these tasks.

Dentists can perform cosmetic and aesthetic procedures, in addition to helping the patient maintain proper dental and oral health.
Dentists can perform cosmetic and aesthetic procedures, in addition to helping the patient maintain proper dental and oral health.

Actually cleaning the teeth, usually with a special toothbrush and floss, is typically part of the process. Under some systems these tasks fall to people known as dental hygienists, but dentists also need to know how to do them and what to look for. In addition, dentists are often responsible for taking dental X-rays and, importantly, reading the results. Teeth that look fine on the outside might actually be having problems beneath the surface that will show up on a, X-ray image. Dentists need to both understand what they’re seeing and figure out a care plan for the future to either treat problems or prevent them.

A dentist may be responsible for performing tooth extractions.
A dentist may be responsible for performing tooth extractions.

Procedures and Restoration Work

Dentists are almost always responsible for doing a number of more invasive procedures too, including filling cavities, bonding teeth together, and performing minor surgeries like root canals. These all require precision and a quick ability to change course if things don’t go as planned or if complications arise. Dentists also need to have an understanding of pain management, including general anesthesia, in order to ensure patient comfort. In most places these professionals are also able to prescribe certain medications as needed for healing and recovery.

Patient Education

Another really important responsibility of a dentist involves patient education. Dentists don’t just look into peoples’ mouths and make their assessments; in most cases they also interact with the patients, talk to them about oral hygiene, and convey to them the importance of regular cleanings and daily brushing and flossing. They frequently also demonstrate things like the way to hold a toothbrush and how much toothpaste to use, particularly with child patients.

Administrative Tasks

In most cases there’s also a lot of paperwork involved. Dentists usually need to fill out patient records after each visit, for instance, making notes about what was observed and any procedures that were performed. The dentist is also usually the person who signs off on billing paperwork and may need to negotiate with or at least contact a patient’s health insurance provider, too. Many dental offices have administrative staff who handle the bulk of this work, but the dentist him or herself is still usually ultimately responsible, and as such has a duty to provide competent oversight.

Professional Licensing Requirements

Most jurisdictions and localities also require dental professionals to be licensed and to keep those licenses current, usually by paying fees and regularly attending what’s known as “continuing education” courses. The specific requirements vary by location, but keeping current with these sorts of credentials is very important. Professionals who fail to comply with licensing laws can face suspension from practice as well as fines.

Dental hygienists are typically responsible for cleanings.
Dental hygienists are typically responsible for cleanings.

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Discussion Comments


My boyfriend just visited his dentist in Ottawa and now he is saying that's what he wants to do with his life. I just wanted him to understand the responsibilities he would be taking on.


@JaneAir - It does take awhile to become a dentist, that's true. However, from what I understand dentists make very good money. So if you can make it through all those years of school and don't mind working in people's mouths, it seems like a pretty good job to me.

I definitely do not envy the job of a dentist. I would not want to spend my entire day poking around inside people's mouths. I read somewhere that the mouth is actually the dirtiest part of the human body. I know dentists wear gloves, but accidents can happen.

If you accidentally knick your glove with one of your tools, you could catch all kind of diseases. Plus, dentist education takes a fairly long time. I don't think I'd want to be in school for that long.


@Ted41 - That's terrible, but it doesn't surprise me at all. That's what happens when healthcare becomes big business. You should write a dentist review of your dental practice on one of those website where you can review healthcare providers. It won't help what happened in the past, but you may be able to hurt their business a little bit.


Here in the US, I'm always struck by the fact that a lot of people do not have access to health care, especially dental care. As the article said, dentists should provide dental care to everyone. However, I've noticed that most dentists are only out for the money.

For example, I have dental insurance I pay for myself, as I'm a freelancer. I had to have a crown awhile ago, and my share of the cost was around a thousand dollars. My dentist would not complete the crown until I paid for it, so I had to wait and it got worse while I was trying to get the money together.


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