The aim of this study was to explore the meaning of community-based experiences for senior dental and dental hygiene students through the use of critical incident essays. A total of 108 senior dental students and 22 senior dental hygiene students were invited to participate in the study. Each student was required to write about one critical incident that occurred at one of four community clinic rotation sites during the 2012-13 school year. The participation rate was 78% of the students. Professional responsibility, a willingness to volunteer, and an understanding of the importance of oral health education were the main themes that emerged from analysis of the essays. These results suggest that community-based learning, with reflection, challenged how these students perceived oral health disparities and expanded the meaning of professional responsibility for them.