Dentist Vs. Medical Doctor

Jan 02, 2019

Comparing Dentists to Medical Doctors

Both dentists and medical doctors must complete several years of postsecondary training and residency programs in order to work in their field. They both treat and diagnose patients, but their specific focus differs. While dentists concentrate on teeth and oral health, medical doctors may treat a range of injuries or illnesses affecting any part of the body.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Outlook (2016-2026)*
Dentists Doctoral or professional degree from dental school $159,770 17%
Medical Doctors Doctoral or professional degree from medical school $190,490 (family and general practitioners) 16% (family and general practitioners)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Dentists vs. Medical Doctors

Dentists and medical doctors are both concerned about the health of their patients. Dentists are specifically trained to identify potential oral health problems such as gum disease or other issues. They examine patients, order medical tests and determine the correct diagnosis and treatment for their patients. They may perform oral surgery on their patients and remove teeth or address other dental health problems. Medical doctors also see patients, refer them for medical tests and provide a diagnosis and treatment plan. This can vary from stitching a wound to prescribing a medication for a person's high blood pressure or another type of health problem, and those specializing in surgery perform operations.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that, as of 2016, 71% of dentists worked in dentist's offices, either in their own private office or in partnership with other dentists. Their hours can differ based on where they work and the needs of their patients; some may work evenings or weekends in addition to daytime hours. Dentists are required to complete a dental school program, be licensed to practice as a dentist and complete a residency program in their area of specialization. Dentists are responsible for the oral health care of their patients and provide both treatments and preventative dental care. They may perform tasks as varied as making a model of a patient's mouth to order dentures or whitening a patient's teeth.

Job responsibilities of a dentist include:

  • Cleaning patients' teeth
  • Locating cavities and diagnosing oral health problems
  • Anesthetizing patients before procedures
  • Referring patients to specialists, like oral and maxillofacial surgeons
  • Prescribing medication

Medical Doctors

Medical doctors provide treatment for patients with a wide range of medical issues. They work in hospitals, medical clinics or doctors' offices, and their specific tasks and work hours may vary depending on where they work. Some medical doctors see the same regular patients and monitor their health conditions, while others may work in hospitals where they care for patients who need treatment for emergencies like severe illnesses or injuries. They are required to have a medical degree and a medical license. They must also complete a residency as part of their training. Some medical doctors treat families or children, while others opt to specialize in treating specific types of illnesses.

Job responsibilities of a medical doctor include:

  • Updating patients' medical histories and charts
  • Reviewing and interpreting results of diagnostic testing
  • Prescribing medication
  • Administering vaccinations
  • Monitoring patient progress

Related Careers

Orthodontists and advanced practice registered nurses are two other health professionals in the dental and medical fields who share some common duties with dentists and medical doctors. Follow the links here to learn more about these comparable career options.

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