When it comes to dental health, there are more than a few different areas of specialty. From dental hygienists to orthodontists to implant surgeons, it can get a bit confusing when you walk in the door of your local dentist’s office. 

In this article, we’ll briefly discuss what precisely a dentist does — and does not — do, so you can be crystal clear about the services you can expect the next time you go in for a cleaning or a check-up.

Dentist, Defined

Simply put, a dentist is a medical professional responsible for the diagnosis and treatment of issues related to the teeth, gums, and surrounding areas of the mouth such as the jaw. When patients come to visit, dentists can give them advice on how to best care for their oral health.

Most dentists are general practitioners that complete a wide variety of tasks on a regular basis. For example, over the course of a single day, a dentist may perform a teeth cleaning, plaque removal, fill a cavity, place a metal crown on a molar, analyze x-rays, and speak with clients in-depth about their oral health habits and modifications that may need to be made.

What Does a Dentist Specialize In?

Although many dentists perform a variety of tasks, there are also quite a few areas of specialization into which they might be categorized. When it comes to diagnosis of diseases and conditions in the mouth, such as ulcers or mouth cancer, you may go to see an oral pathologist. If you’re in need of a root canal surgery, you would head to an endodontist, who specializes in the removal of structural damaged or infected teeth. Orthodontists’ primarily administer treatments in braces and teeth straightening. And outside of the office, dental public health specialists communicate with specific groups of the population to provide educational resources on dental health and oral disease prevention. 

As you can see, although your local dentist might seem to be a jack of all general trades, there are many different areas of focus that they might be simultaneously pursuing. 

What’s the Difference Between a Dentist and a Dental Hygienist?

The primary difference between a dentist and dental hygienist is their level of training and education. Dentists are medical experts who have gone through the required amount of school to get a medical degree, whereas most dental hygienists have an associate’s or a bachelor’s. 

Because of their difference in educational background, there are some tasks that a dentist can perform that a dental hygienist cannot. You probably know from visiting the dentist yourself, but when you go in for a cleaning and/or checkup, you’ll be seen by a dental hygienist prior to meeting with your doctor. This is the person who removes the tartar, plaque, and stains from your teeth with specialized tools and air-polishing devices. Dental hygienists may also apply fluoride and other protective sealants to the teeth. If, during their initial examination, they detect a potential problem with the patient’s oral health, they may conduct an X-ray to get the doctor’s opinion on how to proceed. 

By contrast, a dentist oversees and works with other employees of the office like hygienists, laboratory technicians, and receptionists. If a patient needs dentures, they’ll be the ones who make models and take measurements. They look at the X-rays provided by assistants or technicians and make formal diagnoses, as well as administer anesthetics and numbing agents when patients are receiving procedures that may cause pain or discomfort. Although they are medical specialists, dentists can also perform cosmetic enhancement procedures to whiten teeth and make smiles look more symmetrical.

Overall, dentists perform the more technical tasks that often require greater levels of education and training, and they are considered experts when it comes to giving patients advice on caring for their teeth and gums.


Phew! That was a mouthful of information, but it’s all important stuff to know.

If you’re interested in learning more about the various roles of a dentists’ office, be sure to reach out to Federal Hill Smiles in Baltimore. As you might expect after reading this article, we provide a wide range of general and specialized services ranging from general checkups and cleanings to teeth whitening, dental implants, and sedation dentistry. Give us a call today!