What does a Dentist do?

Dentists (credentialed as Doctor of Dental Surgery/D.D.S. or Doctor of Dental Medicine/D.M.D.) examine, treat and maintain the teeth, gums and other hard and soft tissues of the mouth and surrounding structures. They instruct patients about good oral health practices in order to prevent gum disease and tooth loss. Dentists also treat patients who have diseases, injuries or malformations of the teeth, gums and mouth.

What might a Dentist do in a workday?


  • diagnose oral conditions.
  • plan treatment to restore and maintain optimal oral health.
  • administer anesthetics.
  • locate and fill cavities and treat diseased gums.
  • remove teeth that cannot be treated.
  • replace missing teeth and fit and provide dentures.
  • teach preventive care for teeth and gums.

Developing a Career as a Dentist

There are nine recognized dental specialties:

  • Endodontists diagnose and treat disease and injuries of the dental pulp and other dental tissues that affect the vitality of teeth.
  • Oral and maxillofacial radiologists evaluate head, neck and oral radiographs (X-rays) to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of oral and related disease.
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeons provide a broad range of diagnostic and treatment services for diseases, injuries and defects in the head, neck, face, jaws and associated structures.
  • Oral pathologists study and research the causes and processional effects of diseases of the mouth.
  • Orthodontists treat problems related to crooked teeth, missing teeth and other abnormalities to establish normal function and appearance.
  • Pediatric dentists specialize in treating children from birth through adolescence. They also treat special handicapped patients beyond the age of adolescence.
  • Periodontists diagnose and treat disease of the gums and the bones which support the teeth.
  • Prosthodontists replace missing natural teeth with fixed or removable substitutes such as dentures, bridges and implants.
  • Public health dentists specialize in preventing and controlling dental disease and promoting dental health through organized community efforts.

Some dentists teach, practice and/or conduct research in schools of dentistry. Others plan, organize and maintain dental health programs for public health agencies. Dentists may establish their own practices, become part of dental or medical groups or work in hospitals.

How much salary do Dentists make?

Annual Mean Wage

How do I become a Dentist?

Students intending to pursue a Career as a dentist should prepare by taking the most challenging high school courses available in science (especially biology and chemistry), math and English, including advanced placement courses.

Dental school consists of a four-year curriculum. The first two years include basic and clinical sciences and preclinic laboratory courses. The third and fourth years provide the clinical experience where the student performs dental care on patients. To be accepted by a school of dentistry, a student must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree or four years of undergraduate study. All dental schools also require applicants to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT).

In order to practice dentistry in the United States, every dentist has to successfully pass National Boards, which are given in two parts. Part I deals mainly with basic sciences and is taken after the second year of dental school. Part II deals with different areas of dentistry and is taken in the fourth year of dental school. At the end of the last year of dental school, each dentist must successfully pass a state board licensing exam, where specific dental procedures are performed on patients in a clinic setting.

Where else can I learn about becoming a Dentist?

State Licensure Requirements for Dentists

A license is required to practice dentistry in the state of Virginia. For more information on licensure, applications, and forms, visit www.dhp.virginia.gov/dentistry.

Virginia Board of Dentistry
Perimeter Center
9960 Mayland Drive
Suite 300
Henrico, VA 23233-1463
Phone: (804) 367-4538
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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