Forensic Odontologist Vs. Dentist

Forensic odontologists must be trained dentists but must also complete additional training to work in forensic odontology. Continue reading to learn about the significant differences between these professions.

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Comparing Forensic Odontologists to Dentists

Forensic odontologists are dentists who specialize in using dental information in criminal investigations. Dentists concentrate on dental health and treating patients.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Outlook (2016-2026)*
Forensic Odontologists Doctoral degree, residency, license, certification $173,000 (dentists, all other specialists) 12% (dentists, all other specialists)
Dentists Doctoral degree, license $159,770 17%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Forensic Odontologists vs. Dentists

Forensic odontologists and dentists work in very different environments. Forensic odontologists typically work with dead bodies while dentists work with living patients. Forensic odontologists may frequently travel, attend autopsies and present evidence in court while dentists work in dental offices. A forensic odontologist's job is to use dental information to identify bodies or to determine who bit a victim. Dentists focus on ensuring that their patients have good dental health and do things such as treat cavities and fix people's teeth. One thing both forensic odontologists and dentists may do involves measuring people's teeth and making molds of their teeth, although forensic odontologists use measurements and molds to match people to dental records while dentists use this type of data to have things like dentures made for their patients.

Forensic Odontologists

A forensic odontologist must be a qualified dentist but must complete additional training and certification requirements to qualify to use dental information to identify bodies or develop evidence for criminal investigations. They may spend periods of time traveling because their work often involves identifying the remains of victims in mass casualty situations such as a plane crash. They need to be able to stay focused on their work while dealing with dead bodies that may be partially decomposed or dismembered. Attention to detail is important because they need to take precise measurements in order to effectively use dental records to identify human remains. When working on a mass casualty situation long hours may be required.

Job responsibilities of a forensic odontologist include:

  • Participating in autopsies
  • Photographing dental evidence
  • Present evidence in court
  • Making molds of bite marks
  • Retrieving DNA evidence
  • Preserving bite marks


Dentists provide medical care for dental issues. Although it's common to think of dentists looking after people's teeth they also treat issues with the gums and mouth. Most work in dental offices and spend their day inside. It's normal for dentists to work some evening and weekend shifts. There are several different dental specialties, and dentists who complete a residency can advance to a career in one of those specialties. Dentists need to have good fine motor skills because they must work in a confined space when treating issues inside a person's mouth.

Job responsibilities of a dentist include:

  • Interacting with patients
  • Referring patients to specialists
  • Supervising dental hygienists and technicians
  • Educating patients on how to take care of their teeth and gums
  • Providing patients with prescriptions
  • Extracting damaged teeth

Related Careers

If you're considering a career as a forensic odontologist you may also be interested in being a forensic pathologist since forensic pathologists perform autopsies. If a career as a dentist sounds more appealing then you may be interested in considering specializing as a periodontist because periodontists are dentists who treat gum disease.

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