Dentist Job Description - Skills, Requirements, Career
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Dentists - What Do They Do?
Dentists are doctors who deal with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of conditions, disorders and diseases of the teeth, gums, mouth, jaw and other related structures within the oral cavity.
Dentists may practice general dentistry or specialize in a specific area, such as pediatric dentistry, orthodontics, cosmetic dentistry or prosthodontics.
So, what does a dentist do exactly?
The primary task of a dentist is to look after the health of a patient’s teeth. During a patient’s initial visit, a dentist collects information on a patient’s medical and dental history and examines the oral cavity to determine what work is needed to restore the patient’s dental health. If necessary, during the diagnostic process, a dentist may use x-rays to detect abnormalities, disorders and diseases of the oral cavity. On the basis of the examination, the dentist draws up a dental treatment plan, setting out the proposed treatment and procedures. Once the patient’s consent to the treatment plan has been obtained, the dentist performs the procedures with the help of a dental assistant. Patients are often given local anaesthetics to reduce any pain caused by the treatment.
Procedures commonly performed by dentists include tartar removal, dental inlays (fillings), the treatment of dental caries (tooth decay), the repair of chipped and broken teeth, tooth extractions, root canal procedures and the placement of dental implants and prostheses. Where necessary, dentists may prescribe medication and antibiotics. They also take dental impressions and record measurements for the fabrication of medical and cosmetic prostheses, implants and orthodontic appliances.
In the event of an infection or disease extending to areas other than the oral cavity, a dentist may refer a patient to another healthcare specialist.
Another key aspect of the work of a dentist is education. For example, dentists teach their patients good oral health practices (i.e. the correct use of a toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss), educate them on the importance of regular dental checkups and teeth cleanings and encourage their compliance in wearing prostheses and orthodontic appliances.
Other duties of a dentist include carrying out administrative tasks, such as filling out, updating and filing dental records and managing patient data. In some cases, dentists may be assisted with these tasks by a dental secretary.
Dentists usually work in a dental office or clinic. These are clean, sterile environments, consisting of an operating room containing a dental chair, where patients sit during treatment. Dental operating rooms will also typically contain all of the instruments and equipment a dentist needs to carry out his or her work, including a dental unit equipped with turbines and handpieces, air-water syringes, burs, spatulas and curing lights, as well as impression materials, amalgams, cements, sealants, whitening products, disinfectants and anaesthetics.
As with all other healthcare professionals, dentists are obliged to comply with regulations on safety and hygiene concerning, for example, the sterilization of all equipment and instruments and the cleaning and sanitisation of all work areas. They are also required to wear special protective clothing while working, including a dental gown or coat, face mask and gloves.
Dentists may work on a self-employed basis at a dental surgery or, alternatively, be employed in a hospital, private clinic, day surgery unit or other public or private healthcare facility.
Their working hours tend to vary based on their place of work. In some cases, dentists may work evenings or weekends to accommodate their patients’ requirements.
Dentist - Duties and Responsibilities
The main duties of a dentist include:
- Examining the oral cavity for infections, diseases and abnormalities
- Performing dental treatment procedures, including fillings, root canal procedures, tooth extractions and bridge and prosthesis placements
- Carrying out professional dental cleanings and checkups
- Prescribing orthodontic appliances for repositioning of teeth for medical or cosmetic purposes
- Assessing patients’ oral health
- Educating patients on good oral hygiene practices
- Updating patient dental records
How to Become a Dentist - Education and Training
A degree in dentistry is required to become a dentist. Degree courses for dentists typically cover areas such as endodontics (the study of the internal tissues), orthodontics (the study of the alignment and positioning of the teeth and jaw), periodontics (the study of the supporting structures of teeth, such as the gums and other tissues), prosthodontics (the dental specialty primarily concerned with the restoration and replacement of lost or damaged teeth) and pediatric dentistry (the area of dentistry focussing on the oral health of young people).
It is also important for dentists to keep informed of the latest changes and developments in oral hygiene materials, tools and techniques.
In some countries, there may be a legal requirement for dentists to obtain a license before they can practice.
What Skills Are Needed to Work as a Dentist?
Dentists are typically required to have the following skills:
- Knowledge of dental treatments and procedures
- Strong manual dexterity to perform dental restoration and prosthesis and appliance placement procedures
- Knowledge of good oral hygiene practices
- Ability to work without supervision
- Decision-making ability
- Calm, reassuring manner
Additional vital attributes for a dentist include strong communications skills and empathy. Many people suffer from dental anxiety, so the ability to establish a trusting relationship with patients is a prerequisite for effective clinical care.
Dentist Career Path
The main career options for dentists entail specializing in a specific branch of dentistry, such as orthodontics, prosthodontics, pediatric dentistry or oral and maxillofacial surgery.
Subsequently, dentists may have the opportunity to advance to a managerial position, such as clinical director of a dental practice or manager of a dental clinic.
Top Reasons to Work as a Dentist
One key attraction of becoming a dentist is the opportunity to have a direct positive impact on patients’ lives and wellbeing by helping to ensure that they have healthy mouths, teeth and gums.
In addition to the intrinsic professional rewards, dentistry is also a well respected and prestigious profession offering excellent salary prospects.
Typically, dentists enjoy a good work-life balance, with working hours that tend to be fairly regular.
Finally, another positive aspect of dentistry as a profession is the widespread availability of employment opportunities and the relative security and stability of demand - reflecting the fact that people will always need oral healthcare services.