Dentex have stocky oval bodies, that are rather high and compressed, with variable colouration. The back tends to be a blue-grey to greenish purple, fading into a pinkish white on the sides and belly. Small bluish spots are to be seen on the back and sides. Juveniles are a pinkish colour that becomes blue as they grow. The dorsal and tail fins are a pinkish-brown, the ventral and anal fins yellowish and the pectoral fins are pink.
The head is burly with a streamlined profile when young becoming rounder in adulthood. The large mouth is armed with 4-6 large canine-like teeth on both upper and lower jaws. The pectoral fins are long and pointed and the tail fin has acute lobes.
Juveniles are gregarious while adults are usually solitary or paired. The sexes are usually separate though occasional cases of hermaphroditism have been noted.