Dentist Vs. Physician Assistant

Individuals considering a medical career may be interested in being a dentist or a physician assistant. This article looks at some of the common duties these professionals perform, as well as the distinctions between these careers.

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Comparing Dentists to Physician Assistants

Dentists and physician assistants are both medical professionals who are required to complete graduate studies in order to qualify to treat patients. Both of these professionals must be licensed. Dentists are required to have more extensive training and earn a higher salary while physician assistants are currently experiencing a job growth rate that is more than twice the growth rate for dentists.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Outlook (2016-2026)*
Dentists Doctoral degree $159,770 17%
Physician Assistants Master's degree $ 101,480 37%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Dentists vs. Physician Assistants

Superficially, dentists and physician assistants perform many comparable tasks, such as evaluating patients and diagnosing their condition. Both of these medical professionals may order tests to confirm a diagnosis. Dentists may refer patients to dental specialists for some types of treatment while physician assistants may sometimes need to consult doctors or surgeons or refer their patients to specialists as well. One of the distinctions is that dentists have full authority and do not need to work under the supervision of another medical professional while physician assistants must follow legal restrictions concerning which tasks they can perform and which level of a doctor's supervision is required. Dentists exclusively focus on issues with their patients' teeth and mouth, including the gums. Physician assistants may treat patients with medical issues affecting any part of their body.


Dentists focus on providing dental health care for patients. Most work in dental offices, although some may work in doctors' offices. Much of their work involves assessing patients and performing dental procedures. Those who work in a dental office may also be responsible for ensuring that administrative tasks are completed, such as bookkeeping. All dentists are involved with supervising dental technicians and hygienists. Those interested in advancement opportunities can complete a residency program to qualify to specialize in a specific field of dental care, such as orthodontia.

Job responsibilities of a dentist include:

  • Studying X-rays
  • Reviewing patient histories
  • Diagnosing dental conditions
  • Providing patients with prescriptions
  • Educating patients about dental health care

Physician Assistants

Physician assistants, or PAs, can work long hours any time of the day or night and are typically employed in medical offices, clinics or hospitals. When people are injured or ill they may be examined and diagnosed by a PA. PAs perform many tasks that doctors perform but they do so under the general supervision of a medical doctor and do not have the same authority as a doctor. States regulate which types of duties physician assistants are authorized to perform and the level of supervision required. It is possible for them to advance to a supervisory position with experience or to complete training to specialize in a specific branch of medicine.

Job responsibilities of a physician assistant include:

  • Updating patient charts
  • Determining which medical tests are needed for patients
  • Performing immunizations
  • Investigating new treatment options
  • Teaching patients about their illness

Related Careers

If a career as a dentist sounds appealing you may also be interested in specializing and becoming an orthodontist. If you're thinking about being a physician assistant you may also want to consider being an occupational therapist, since they require the same amount of training and also diagnose and treat patients.

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