General Dentist Vs. Cosmetic Dentist

General dentists and cosmetic dentists are both trained in dental health care but typically see different patients with different needs. This article looks at the different training requirements for these careers, as well as how their typical work duties compare.

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Comparing General Dentists to Cosmetic Dentists

The focus of the work that general dentists do differs from the objectives of a cosmetic dentist. Cosmetic dentists must complete additional postgraduate training and they earn a higher salary than general dentists. General dentists provide a wider range of services focused on dental health care and can expect a higher rate of job growth in their field.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Outlook (2016-2026)*
General Dentists Doctoral degree $153,900 17%
Cosmetic Dentists Doctoral degree; postgraduate studies $173,000 (dentists, all other specialists) 12% (dentists, all other specialists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of General Dentists vs. Cosmetic Dentists

General dentists and cosmetic dentists perform some comparable duties, such as examining patients. They also need to communicate with patients to understand their concerns or symptoms. Both may be responsible for overseeing other dental health staff and completing paperwork as part of their duties. Their specific treatment methods may vary based on the needs of their patients and while general and cosmetic dentists may repair broken teeth, cosmetic dentists may also use implants and other treatment methods with the objective of reshaping a person's mouth with the goal of improving their appearance. General dentists focus more on dental health care needs, such as treating cavities and referring patients to specialists if they need braces or dental surgery.

General Dentists

Dentists must complete a doctoral degree in their field and complete their state's licensing requirements. Those who wish to consider advancement opportunities may opt to specialize by completing a residency program. It's common for dentists to spend prolonged periods of time standing so they need to be reasonably fit and have stamina. Most work in offices where they may primarily work weekday daytime hours, although some may also work evenings and weekends. Their focus is to provide dental health care to their patients.

Job responsibilities of a general dentist include:

  • Assessing patients
  • Ordering X-rays
  • Identifying the patient's condition
  • Applying treatments to teeth
  • Overseeing dental assistants and other dental health staff
  • Updating patient records

Cosmetic Dentists

Cosmetic dentists must complete a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree and should seek out accredited programs that incorporate training in cosmetic dentistry to help prepare for their career. Once they've completed a doctoral degree they must complete a postgraduate program in cosmetic, aesthetic, or restorative dentistry. The objective of a cosmetic dentist's work is to improve how their patient looks through dental procedures. Compassion and interpersonal skills are important since they may be working with patients who have been disfigured in an accident or who are self-conscious about their appearance.

Job responsibilities of a cosmetic dentist include:

  • Evaluating a patient's condition and needs
  • Developing a treatment plan
  • Repairing damaged teeth
  • Inserting implants
  • Writing prescriptions for medication
  • Educating patients about how to care for implants or dental devices

Related Careers

General dentists who opt to specialize may consider pursuing a career as a pediatric dentist and treating children. Another career option for aspiring cosmetic dentists is to consider becoming an oral surgeon since oral surgeons may also provide some treatments that have the benefit of improving a person's appearance.

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