Dentist Vs. Oral Surgeon

Dentists and oral surgeons treat dental health issues but they have different training requirements and primary responsibilities. This article examines some similarities between these professions as well as some differences between these professions.

Comparing Dentists to Oral Surgeons

Dentists are medical professionals qualified to diagnose and treat dental health issues. Oral surgeons, otherwise known as oral and maxillofacial surgeons, are dentists who have completed additional training that qualifies them to perform operations involving a person's teeth, and they may also operate on parts of the mouth or jaw.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2018)* Job Outlook (2016-2026)**
Dentists Doctoral degree $125,455 17%
Oral Surgeons Doctoral degree; residency $212,074 17% (oral and maxillofacial surgeons)

Sources: *PayScale; **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Dentists vs. Oral Surgeons

Dentists and oral surgeons both provide dental health care to their patients, but the focus of their work is different. Dentists provide primary dental care to patients. When there is an issue that requires advanced surgery, such as impacted teeth, they will refer patients to an oral surgeon. Dentists concentrate on educating patients about dental care, cleaning teeth and routine tasks such as caring for cavities. Oral surgeons concentrate on performing operations on patients so much of their time is spent performing surgery. Both dentists and oral surgeons may supervise staff as part of their duties.


Dentists are healthcare professionals who concentrate on treating patients' teeth. They also diagnose and treat issues with their patients' gums and mouth. They typically work in a dental office and may work some evening and weekends. Dentists that are interested in advancement will want to complete a residency after graduating from dental school. This will prepare them to pursue a dental specialty. Patience and compassion are important since it's common for dentists to treat some patients who are anxious about receiving dental treatment.

Job responsibilities of a dentist include:

  • Supervising technicians and other staff
  • Using X-rays to help diagnose patients
  • Developing a treatment plan for patients
  • Extracting teeth
  • Showing patients how to take care of their teeth and gums

Oral Surgeons

Oral surgeons are dentists who have completed a residency to qualify to specialize as an oral surgeon. They need to have fine motor skills and the physical ability to stand for long periods of time while operating on patients. The surgeries they perform may be required to treat a specific medical condition or injury or they may be for cosmetic purposes. In some cases the oral surgeon may be one of many professionals involved in providing related treatment and they may need to collaborate with those medical professionals when scheduling surgery.

Job responsibilities of an oral surgeon include:

  • Evaluating patients
  • Ordering tests, such as X-rays
  • Giving patients anesthesia
  • Explaining procedures to patients
  • Prescribing medication

Related Careers

Aspiring dentists may also be interested in becoming dental therapists because dental therapists also treat dental health issues but do not require as much training as dentists. If a career as an oral surgeon sounds appealing you may also want to consider being a general surgeon, since they also spend their career operating on patients.

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