Besides the Pre-med and Med school route, which makes up only 7% of all dentists, the other 93% are now practising in or running their own private practice. So what can someone do to get into a dentist career? You have to get an education – but where? Many people ask “How much does it cost and what schools should I look at?”
Find all the practical and valuable information about alternative careers for dentists, dentist education requirements, dentist career path, dentist career salary, & benefits of being a dentist on Collegelearners. Happy reading!
A Career In Dentistry – All You Need To Know!
Are you interested in a career in dentistry? Have you always wondered what kind of education dental professionals go through? Perhaps you’re just interested in peeking behind the curtain to see what happens in a typical dental office.
Well, you’ve come to the right place. Dentistry is a rewarding profession where we get to help others, are constantly learning, and regularly change people’s lives for the better. Here we’ll go over the basics of career paths there are in dentistry, the benefits and the challenges of the field, and some tips on how to get started down your own dentistry career path.
What Kinds of Careers are There in Dentistry?
Let’s start off with discussing just what happens in professional dentistry. There are many different and required roles in any given dentist’s office, without even including the dentist themselves. Dentists have a similar role regarding your health to your family doctor in that we look after your general oral health instead of specializing in a specific area.
A dentist has graduated with a doctorate from a dental school and are licenced to practice dentistry. One major focus is on health management and prevention, which means we regularly check our patients for signs and symptoms of any oral, cranial (head), lymph, or neck-related health issues. We are also responsible for performing all of the dental procedures that go beyond routine cleanings.
Beyond general dentistry there are areas that dentists can specialize in after completing additional schooling after graduating from dental school. These specializations may include orthodontics, which is an area that is chiefly concerned with jaw and teeth alignment, and periodontistry, which is concerned with the gums and supporting structures of the mouth.
An oral and maxillofacial surgeon is another specialization that carries out oral and some facial, head, and neck bone surgeries and reconstructions. If you need to see an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, you are probably dealing with more significant dental issues than most.
Cosmetic dentistry, also known as aesthetic dentistry, is concerned with the appearance of teeth, gums, and bite. Cosmetic dental work can work wonders for improving self esteem and repairing damage caused by physical injury, neglect, or natural development that’s not aesthetically pleasing.
Support and Associated Positions
There are other career paths in dentistry that do not require a doctorate but are essential in a dental practice. Dental assistants help the dentist by sterilizing instruments, ushering patients into exam rooms and through procedures, taking x-rays and impressions of patients’ teeth, and more.
Dental hygienists have more responsibility than dental assistants, including carrying out routine oral cleanings and checking patients for oral decay or disease. Hygienists often get mistaken for dentists because of how knowledgeable and competent they are, and because they’re the ones you see the most of during a cleaning.
Without our dental receptionists, we couldn’t get anything done! Although they aren’t required to have dental education at the same level as the other positions, a dental receptionist often has to understand many different facets of life at a dental office. When you call the clinic, get appointment reminders, or have your insurance explained to you, it’s usually the receptionist who’s there to help you, smiling and reassuring all the way.
Finally, dental laboratory technicians work in labs that manufacture dental appliances for patients based on dentists’ recommendations. Typical items of this nature include custom mouthguards and oral retainers. Do you sleep with a retainer or night guard in? If so, these are probably the ones you can thank for it.
Are You a People Person?
The majority of working in dentistry involves interacting with patients. People skills are extremely important in this industry as our client base will either grow or shrink based on the customer service we give and your bedside manner. A dental professional’s job, no matter which position, is to ensure that patients are comfortable and confident that they are receiving excellent dental care.
A desire to help people and to improve the lives of others is also an essential part of working in dentistry. As dental professionals, we hold the unique position of helping to significantly improve the health and functioning of others. With that comes the authority and responsibility to educate patients about better oral health practices as well.
Since dental offices are a place where many patients feel uncomfortable or even frightened, our ability to soothe fears and provide a reassuring presence can make or break a person’s ability to seek treatment. This level of responsibility and trust is one we take very seriously.
Dentistry is Surprisingly Artistic
Dentistry involves very precise handiwork, whether you are cleaning in between a patient’s teeth, filling a cavity, or trying to remove stubborn stains. Dexterity and attention to detail when working to fix a patient’s oral issues are crucial traits to have as a dental professional, in some ways similar to a sculptor or craftsman.
Dental appliances created for patients, such as retainers and mouthguards, must always be properly fitted and designed by qualified dental professionals. No two apparatus are the same, and each address the specific needs of each patient. Making sure that the dental appliances meet these needs requires a keen eye, an ability to problem solve, and an acute attention to detail.
Thinking of creative solutions to a patient’s oral issue, whether that involves designing a dental appliance or thinking of a treatment plan that better suits a patient’s lifestyle, will help you excel in a profession where no two solutions are the same.
If you are perhaps thinking by now that dentistry may be the profession for you but you’re not quite sure how to get there from where you are now, read on, curious one! Here’s a step by step outline of the dental education needed to become a dentist (supporting positions typically have less demanding educational requirements, and we’re not addressing them below).
To become a dentist:
Earn a bachelor’s degree. It doesn’t really matter in what your degree is in but you should keep in mind that once you apply for dental school, you will likely be required to already have completed courses in biology, physics, chemistry, among others. Because of this, most aspiring dental professionals choose to complete their bachelor’s degree in chemistry or biology to avoid having to take extra classes in the end.
You may find it worthwhile to look for colleges and universities that offer a pre-dental program. These programs ensure that you meet dental school admission requirements and will also prepare you for the Dental Admissions Test that you will need to complete in order to be accepted into dental school.
Get accepted into dental school. This includes passing the Dental Admissions Test which covers areas such as chemistry, biology, perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and reasoning. If you are exclusively interested in becoming a dental assistant, you are only required to obtain a diploma or certificate, depending on the program, which takes significantly less time than becoming a dentist. There are tons of dental programs all over the world, through large and small institutions alike. With so much choice, it is likely that you can find a school that will work with your budget and schedule.
Graduate from dental school. This may be easier said than done for some, but if you work hard and are determined you should pass with flying colours. Dental school, like any bachelor’s degree in Canada, is four years long with each year building on what you learned in the last.
Generally, the first two years consist of basic instruction supplemented with work in laboratories where you try out your skills. The last two years include clinical studies where you participate in active dental practices under the supervision of a licensed dental professional.
Figure out if you want to specialize or not. While most dental school graduates work in general dentistry, it has been proven that dental school graduates are the most hirable when they have specialized in something. Of course specializing means taking additional school and can mean obtaining a master’s degree, so you’ll want to weigh your options with that in mind. Specialties include orthodontics, periodontics, endodontics, pathology, radiology, and many others.
Register with the College of Dental Surgeons. Regardless of whether you want to be a dentist or dental assistant, you must register in order to legally work in the province of BC. Registering includes a criminal record check and an annual renewal.
Find a job within an existing practice or start your own! Most dental professionals find employment within private practices or buy pre-existing practices, but there are a minority who work within hospitals and regional health units. Specializing may make it easier to find employment, even if you just wish to work in general dentistry, but in the lower mainland dentists are generally in demand. Almost 89% of dentists in Canada work in general practice while 11% are specialized practitioners.
Wherever and however you decide to work, dentistry will provide you with a profession that grows, changes, provides, and helps you to change the lives of others for the better.
Career, Salary and Education Information
What They Do: Dentists diagnose and treat problems with patients’ teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth.
Work Environment: Some dentists have their own business and work alone or with a small staff. Other dentists have partners in their practice. Still others work as associate dentists for established dental practices.
How to Become One: Dentists must be licensed in the state in which they work. Licensure requirements vary by state, although candidates usually must graduate from an accredited dental program and pass written and clinical exams.
Salary: The median annual wage for dentists is $156,240.
Job Outlook: Overall employment of dentists is projected to grow 7 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations. The demand for dental services will increase as the population ages and as research continues to link oral health to overall health.
Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of dentists with similar occupations.
Following is everything you need to know about a career as a dentist with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:
Top 3 Dentist Jobs
- General Dentist – Western Dental – Goleta, CAMust have a current dental license for the state in which you wish to practice – New Grads Welcome! This is a fantastic opportunity for the right general dentist . Join a team of quality orientated …
- Dentist – Saturdays Only – KoolSmiles – Eagle Pass, TexasMission-oriented practice seeks Associate Dentist . Large, multi-practice organization with strong mission to provide quality dental care to underserved families is seeking an Associate Dentist . As an …
- General Dentist – $20K Sign-On Bonus – Benevis – Tucson, ArizonaFamily practice seeks Associate Dentist . Locally owned, supported practice has an associate dentist opportunity. The qualified dentist will provide quality dental care in an established, successful …
What Dentists Do
Dentists diagnose and treat problems with patients’ teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth. They provide advice and instruction on taking care of the teeth and gums and on diet choices that affect oral health.
Duties of Dentists
Dentists typically do the following:
- Remove decay from teeth and fill cavities
- Repair cracked or fractured teeth and remove teeth
- Place sealants or whitening agents on teeth
- Administer anesthetics to keep patients from feeling pain during procedures
- Prescribe antibiotics or other medications
- Examine x rays of teeth, gums, the jaw, and nearby areas in order to diagnose problems
- Make models and measurements for dental appliances, such as dentures, to fit patients
- Teach patients about diets, flossing, the use of fluoride, and other aspects of dental care
Dentists use a variety of equipment, including x-ray machines, drills, mouth mirrors, probes, forceps, brushes, and scalpels. They also use lasers, digital scanners, and other computer technologies.
In addition, dentists in private practice oversee a variety of administrative tasks, including bookkeeping and buying equipment and supplies. They employ and supervise dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental laboratory technicians, and receptionists.
Most dentists are general practitioners and handle a variety of dental needs. Other dentists practice in 1 of 9 specialty areas:
Dental public health specialists promote good dental health and the prevention of dental diseases in specific communities.
Endodontists perform root-canal therapy, by which they remove the nerves and blood supply from injured or infected teeth.
Oral and maxillofacial radiologists diagnose diseases in the head and neck through the use of imaging technologies.
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons operate on the mouth, jaws, teeth, gums, neck, and head, performing procedures such as surgically repairing a cleft lip and palate or removing impacted teeth.
Oral pathologists diagnose conditions in the mouth, such as bumps or ulcers, and oral diseases, such as cancer.
Orthodontists straighten teeth by applying pressure to the teeth with braces or other appliances.
Pediatric dentists focus on dentistry for children and special-needs patients.
Periodontists treat the gums and bones supporting the teeth.
Prosthodontists replace missing teeth with permanent fixtures, such as crowns and bridges, or with removable fixtures, such as dentures.
Some dentists teach or do research. For more information, see the profiles on medical scientists and postsecondary teachers.
Work Environment for Dentists
Dentists hold about 155,000 jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up dentists is distributed as follows:
|Oral and maxillofacial surgeons||5,900|
|Dentists, all other specialists||5,200|
The largest employers of dentists are as follows:
|Offices of dentists||74%|
|Offices of physicians||2%|
|Outpatient care centers||2%|
Some dentists own their own businesses and work alone or with a small staff. Other dentists have partners in their practice, and some work for more established dentists as associate dentists.
Dentists wear masks, gloves, and safety glasses to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases.
Dentist Work Schedules
Dentists’ work schedules vary. Some work evenings and weekends to meet their patients’ needs. Many dentists work less than 40 hours a week, although some work considerably more.
Dentistry, and why it is a great career
Why did we choose to become dentists? Once I revert to my idealistic pre-undergraduate self, I could reel off several good formulaic answers. A more apt adjoining question would be: ‘Why am I still a dentist?’ That is, in spite of all the doom and gloom we encounter through dentistry talks, media, colleagues, websites, forums and blog posts, whether it is on the plight of the NHS, rising costs or the increase in litigation.
You don’t just stumble into a job this unique: even within the realms of healthcare, dentistry stands apart. It is half business, half clinical; it is an incredibly intimate job with the potential for great impact: focusing on a part of the body that influences one’s confidence, general health, how you eat, sleep, drink, talk and how you are perceived by others. So clearly some thought must have gone into the decision to take up this career.
Lest we forget public opinion: on at least one occasion, a patient will have told you, ‘I hate dentists’. There are common negative stereotypes of dentists as money grabbing, fear inducing sadists – who would wish to be attached to this image?
It is a long journey too: you have sat the many exams to get into and stay in university. You have paid the exorbitant fees to complete the five years of training and to register with the regulator and an indemnity provider. Then you begin the job to learn first hand the issues with difficult patients, complaints, over regulation, rising costs, pay, stress, perpetually continuing years of training, the threat of being sued, high rate of depression and suicide and the physical demands (chronic back pain, hypertension, carpal tunnel syndrome to name a few). Adapting to the many types of people you see each day is mentally straining, along with its potentially repetitive nature.
Half of all respondents to the latest NHS Dental Working Patterns Survey1 said they often think about leaving dentistry. Seventy-two percent of associates and 81% of principals in the UK did not have high or very high morale. Just under half of all dentists surveyed in England and Wales disagreed that they were fairly paid, and these figures were greater in Scotland and greater still in Northern Ireland.
Then there are the day to day things that go wrong, which can be stressful, such as that mouth that just won’t open, the battle to run on time, the admin and paperwork (which must be done contemporaneously and immaculately), broken endodontic files, failed treatment you have previously done, anxious patients, crowns not fitting, difficulty numbing a patient, repeating the same oral hygiene and diet advice, bad debts, staffing issues, broken equipment, revenue targets, UDA targets, satisfying the regulators, etc.
So why choose dentistry?
‘A person has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.’ J. P. Morgan
The good reason provides an explanation to others, the real reason gets you out of bed every day. Should the reasons be both ‘good’ and ‘real’ then one may say they have a great career.
Given the breadth of minuses, there have to be some pretty good plus points to dentistry otherwise we would have long since hung up our drills and forceps to take up other careers! There have to be things that people enjoy taking away from the job, given all the hardships they have to put in to get into and stay in the career. Quite frankly there are easier, better paid jobs with the same freedoms and controls. However…
For me, it’s multifactorial
There are lots of good reasons below but on their own, each could be torn apart or better found in other careers. But together, the unique manner of dentistry truly shines through, as no career path offers quite the same blend of positives.
I want to help people
Dental treatment really can help people. A successful root treatment or filling can help to remove pain; a denture may help people eat foods they may previously have struggled with. Dentists help people’s health through treating gum disease, dental caries and related pathology. This can in turn improve their quality of life. As can the impact of changing the appearance of their teeth through teeth whitening or orthodontics. I feel that in most encounters we have with patients, we are helping them, to some extent. Even if it’s simply to give them a clean bill of dental health at a routine dental visit.
This goodwill can feel great. It can come immediately on the completion of treatment when you see a patient’s reaction or when you see how good the bridge or filling you have done looks. But the reason, ‘I want to help people’ can’t be everything. It’s such a short lived sensation, a few seconds at the end of a treatment – some treatments take hours to weeks to complete, which can be a lot of hard work for just a brief bit of satisfaction at the end. And not all treatment we do works, which can take a hit on morale if the end result is one’s biggest motivator.
Tying your enjoyment of the job with a patient’s experience and patient journey can be very satisfying for a brief moment at the end of a course of treatment – when it goes well. But it can be hugely detrimental. You end up riding that patient journey with them: you may feel their anxiety over the treatment or the pricing, you will feel their disappointment if the treatment has not gone well and you have ultimately failed to help them or their relief that it is all over. There have to be stronger reasons to go with the ‘helping people’ one for it to work in reality.
I like the end result – compared to art, science research, musician, TV and film
Looking at a well-obturated molar tooth or admiring a completed smile makeover you’ve done can be very satisfying and rewarding. We cannot pin all our enjoyment of the job on the end result. There has to be some enjoyment of the process. Otherwise we’ll feel every failure and every bit of disappointment the patient experiences. Compare it to a scientist researching a cure for cancer or a musician writing an album. The scientist probably cannot derive all their job satisfaction from the end result, as they may never get there. As a musician myself, I get immense pleasure from the process: the sound produced playing a sequence of notes and the harmonies upon hearing a chord or playing with other musicians. The joy does not necessarily come when I have completed a song or concert or reached whatever end goal I have set.
The long term impact of our treatment is questionable too. We may feel great doing these life-changing smile makeovers and feel like we are really improving a patient’s quality of life or self well being. However, there is strong research to say our level of self-happiness returns to the same level after a life changing positive event. This is made more interesting when in contrast, life-changing negative events tend to have a greater negative effect on our base line level of happiness than positive events have on the base line level. Think of all those patients who come in saying they ‘hate dentists’ and further conversation reveals this ‘hate’ stems from a bad experience. We don’t as often get people coming in saying they ‘love dentists’ as a result of a positive experience.
Happiness, its permanence and hedonism are complex topics that alone could provide one with a dissertation’s worth of discussion but thankfully the likes of Brickman et al. (1978),2 Lucas, Clark, Georgellis and Diener (2003),3 Headey (2008)4 and others have already walked that path.
Lifelong relationships with patients/working with people
Dentistry wouldn’t really be the same without the patients, so it’s definitely a good career for those who like to meet new people and develop relationships with them. It’s wonderful when you see people throughout different stages of their year: birthdays, Christmas, holidays and also through different stages of their lives: births, weddings, leaving school, new job etc.
If you enjoy talking and listening to people, you will get to do this a lot as a dentist. When you see a person or a family regularly enough, you end up becoming part of their lives and part of your community.
For the artistic side
One definition of dentistry is that it is, ‘the art and science of oral health’. The British Dental Association (BDA) have used the motto that they are here to ‘promote the art and science of dentistry’. We often think of it as a science but there is definitely an artistic element, from shaping a white filling on an anterior tooth to realigning a whole arch.
Admittedly, the artistic boundaries are limited to what is anatomically and ethically reasonable: a dentist is unlikely to unleash the full extent of their artistic side on a patient by turning their teeth into a surrealist sculpture. But some of the characteristics of sculpturing, for example the precision, the respect paid to symmetry and cosmetics, are shared with dentistry.
For the money – financial independence
I am not sure I would do this job purely for the money. Well the money is good, it’s very good. There aren’t many careers where graduates earn over £33,000 in their first year. Medics certainly don’t. By your second year of work, you may earn between £50,000 to £70,000, the latter figure being where the current average dentist’s earnings lie.5 With an income at that level, financial independence seems very feasible. Then work hard enough, invest in the right training, practice, give it some time and the earning potential goes even further. Therein lies the issue of the money being a great reason to choose dentistry. It is not easy money – you have to work hard to meet your NHS targets, your revenue targets and your patients’ wishes. You have to invest a lot of money back into your job, be it lab bills, overheads, training, indemnity or the GDC retention fee, so that handsome £5,800 a month soon gets whittled down. You will struggle to get through each day if you do not find something positive to take from the job, barring money.
It’s a competitive career, particularly at university level. You have to work hard to get onto and stay on the five to six year course. To get onto the course, you have to be fairly academic and get good grades. These same grades could land you on a shorter bachelors or masters degree that may lead to a job in law, banking, finance or the tech industry, all of which may lead to higher financial returns.
Self-employed. Pension. For the lifestyle: job security, hours
So the money is very good but there are jobs that offer higher incomes. What are the other financial benefits then, if any? In industries such as law, banking, finance and the tech industry, you will most likely be employed – especially in your early years. Being self-employed gives you a lot of freedom on where you can work, how much you work a week or a year and the opportunity to take career breaks. Working with the NHS gives you a generous pension and, provided targets are met, a steady income each month.
You have a lot of control in how you wish to work, from the choice of equipment, material and dental lab to staff and premises.
There will always be teeth so there will always be a need for dentists. The nature of our job may change and how we are paid but there will be employment. It’s unlikely that machines will be able to do our job and it would take a brave government to completely remove the provision of NHS dental care.
Despite the ever increasing competition for jobs, it is still pretty difficult for UK graduates with a performer number to find themselves without a job. It may not be exactly where you want but there seems to be enough work out there for general dentists. So it is a secure career – at least for now.
For the love of dental science
This for me is the only reason that truly stands up on its own as a reason to do dentistry. No matter how bad things get with the administrative, business, stress or clinical side, you will always have dental science at the core of what you do. And if you like it you get to wake up every day with the knowledge that it will be at the heart of every treatment or bit of dental advice you impart that day. Nothing can take that away. I’m not saying you need to love teeth or gums or dental drills. That would be strange; saying, ‘I love teeth’ is akin to a plumber saying ‘I love toilets’. But dental science, how teeth form, the theory behind demineralisation, the anatomy, the physiology, the oral biology… there is some interesting stuff in there.
I was never really big on the material sciences but I can appreciate those who are. I have met hundreds of dentists but could probably count on one hand those that truly like dental science. And I envy them, I truly do. I recall overhearing two colleagues discussing the light refraction indexes of two composite filling materials and being in awe. Not in awe of the conversation’s content but of the sheer excitement and genuine enthusiasm they had that I may never replicate.
Yes, you could derive some of this satisfaction in a research career or as a sales rep but to truly appreciate dental science, you will want to see it in action, you want to see it at work on a patient, your patients. Only a dentist gets this privilege.
Do we have to love or even like dental science? Do ophthalmologists have to like ophthalmology? ENT doctors and otorhinolaryngology? No, but it would help.
To enter into dental research, academia or dental specialties
Well if you’re interested in dental science and you have already made up your mind that a dental research or academic job rather than a patient-centred one is best for you then you have a pretty strong reason to enter this career.
Similarly, if you have decided that specialising in a certain field, such as orthodontics, is the end goal for you then a career in dentistry is the pathway there.
Want to get into healthcare/was a choice over medicine and dentistry and dentistry won
It’s a strong reason. Dentistry fits firmly into the category of healthcare as a job. There are other routes one can go down after attaining their dentistry qualifications: academia, education, research and cosmetics for example. But if it’s a job in healthcare you want, dentistry can definitely provide it. It is quite a niche area of healthcare though. Nursing offers a faster route into healthcare and does away with a lot of the business elements of dentistry. Medicine offers a wider range of healthcare and potentially greater impact on people’s health.
Like doing things with my hands
This follows on nicely from the last point: from the get go, dentistry is very hands-on. More so than medicine. For the first three years of a medical school, most medics do not perform surgical procedures on patients. Some will do very few in their entire undergrad course. And this may carry over into their foundation training, general practice and a medical career, should they forgo the option for a surgical one. We do so much with our hands, be it intricate wax work with dentures or sculpting teeth with composite filling material.
Engineering is an obvious choice for those who like to do things with their hands but a lot of the top jobs in this field do not offer that much hands-on engineering once the degree is over. Much of it is management, planning and design.
That said, there are plenty of other careers that appeal to those wising to work with their hands such as art, construction, sport, jewellers, beauticians, hairdressers, fashion, plumbers, electricians to name a few.
The status and professional recognition
This will always be subjective but in my general experience upon people learning I am a dentist (barring the typical covering of one’s mouth or immediate request for dental advice) is overwhelmingly positive. Some may say they ‘hate dentists’ or at least the experience of going to the dentist but they identify it as a respectable profession, one requiring higher education and expertise. And it is in this country, by the strictest definition, a profession: a self regulated industry.
I watched someone else do it, family, friends, work experience and it inspired me to do the same
I often hear this reason given and it makes perfect sense why: an influential person imparting their feelings on another can have a big impact on our decision making. Then seeing said person at work doing the work we may be able to one day do can really have an effect. This is particularly powerful if this person is a parent.
These second generation dentists are in an invaluable position to gain true insight into the career and are thus likely to have picked the right career.
I had a memorable experience with a dentist as a patient
I wish I could have phrased that better, as it sounds more like an account of a sordid episode with a dentist. That aside, it is a commonly given reason. Often bad experiences, extractions or braces trigger this early interest in dentistry. Some at the undergraduate interview shared theirs with me at the time. I had my own: I was eight-years-old and had an extraction of a deciduous molar in Ghana. It was horrific. The ‘practice’ looked more like the set of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, with the army of nurses there to hold me down all wearing the classic nurses attire. The screams of grown men that I could hear prior to my own turn were ominous. The anaesthetic was of questionable origin and certainly had no effect. How did this encourage me to become a dentist? It wasn’t some altruistic urge in me that I would travel back to this practice riding a white horse wearing shining armour to deliver them from their dental despair. It was more that it was one of my only experiences I had with a dentist. It got me thinking about dentistry for the first time: what it was all about, what dentists did, how things worked.
There may well be other reasons: ‘My parents recommended it’, ‘I am a sadist,’ or ‘I was inspired by watching Marathon Man and Little Shop of Horrors’, but the reasons I have shared above consistently seem to be coming up in my observations.
During this research, an interesting conclusion could be drawn that dentistry may be the best job for some people, given how well many of the reasons listed apply to them. However, it may not be their perfect job. Perfection evades the necessity to be practical and realistic. My perfect job would be racing Formula One cars on a weekend, writing and directing films for the big screen during the week and performing music to sell-out crowds across the globe. Granted all three simultaneously is somewhat ambitious but one of those pursuits wouldn’t have been unthinkable at certain stages of my life. But could any one of those match the attainability of dentistry? No.
I’m not going to pretend that everything in dentistry is great. Some of those aspersions cast at the beginning of this article are a constant bane that may take out any of the joy from the job.
If you still don’t feel clinical dentistry is for you, there are several other routes within the industry that you may go down, whether its research, teaching, academia, consulting, business or management related. Not a week goes by where I pick up a dental publication or visit a website showing an entrepreneurial dentist with a new idea I’d never thought of such as a new orthodontic retention system or social networking database. At the very least, dentistry may give you a comfortable enough income to either work part time and pursue other interests on your day off or launch other business ventures.
I considered one dichotomy of thoughts in respect to work ethic with a friend recently. We discussed two dentists, Ali and Jamie. Ali likes to do more challenging and interesting things each day, even if it means more stress when things do not go well. Jamie prefers doing simpler treatments, even if they are more repetitive, uninteresting and unchallenging, as Jamie wants a more stress free day. If you truly like the job you’re doing, you won’t want to be doing the same repetitive things – you’ll want to push and challenge yourself, try and explore new areas of the job. Whereas if you did not, like Jamie, you just want to get through each working day stress free. This may be fine for a while but to really get the best return, find something else within the job that you can enjoy, which may in turn beneficially impact that patients you treat and the staff around you.
How many end up in their perfect job? Furthermore, how many are fortunate enough to end up in a job that is best for them? A privileged few perhaps. But given the collection of reasons to do dentistry, it would be a hard fact to dispute that as a dentist, we have all at the very least found ourselves in a great career.
How to Become a Dentist
Get the education you need:
Dentists must be licensed in the state(s) in which they work. Licensure requirements vary by state, although candidates usually must graduate from an accredited dental school and pass written and practical exams. Dentists who practice in a specialty area must complete postdoctoral training.
Education for Dentists
All dental schools require applicants to have completed certain science courses, such as biology and chemistry, before entering dental school. Students typically need at least a bachelor’s degree to enter most dental programs, although no specific major is required. However, majoring in a science, such as biology, might increase one’s chances of being accepted. Requirements vary by school.
Applicants to dental schools usually take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). Dental schools use these tests along with other factors, such as grade point average, interviews, and recommendations, to admit students into their programs.
Dental school programs typically include coursework in subjects such as local anesthesia, anatomy, periodontics (the study of oral disease and health), and radiology. All programs at dental schools include clinical experience in which students work directly with patients under the supervision of a licensed dentist. The Commission on Dental Accreditation, part of the American Dental Association, has accredited more than 60 dental school programs.
High school students who want to become dentists should take courses in chemistry, physics, biology, anatomy, and math.
All nine dental specialties require dentists to complete additional training before practicing that specialty. This training is usually a 2- to 4-year residency in a program related to the specialty. General dentists do not need additional training after dental school.
Dentists who want to teach or do research full time usually spend an additional 2 to 5 years in advanced dental training. Many practicing dentists also teach part time, including supervising students in dental school clinics.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Dentists
Dentists must be licensed in the state(s) in which they work. All states require dentists to be licensed; requirements vary by state. Most states require a dentist to have a degree from an accredited dental school and to pass the written and practical National Board Dental Examinations.
In addition, a dentist who wants to practice in one of the nine specialties must have a license in that specialty. Licensure requires the completion of a residency after dental school and, in some cases, the completion of a special state exam.
Important Qualities for Dentists
Communication skills. Dentists must communicate effectively with patients, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and receptionists.
Detail oriented. Dentists must pay attention to the shape and color of teeth and to the space between them. For example, they may need to closely match a false tooth with a patient’s other teeth.
Dexterity. Dentists must be good at working with their hands. They must work carefully with tools in a small space and ensure the safety of their patients.
Leadership skills. Most dentists manage and lead staff in their own dental practices.
Organizational skills. Keeping accurate records of patient care is critical in both medical and business settings.
Patience. Dentists may work for long periods with patients who need special attention. Children and patients with a fear of dental work may require a lot of patience.
Physical stamina. Dentists typically bend over patients for long periods.
Problem-solving skills. Dentists must evaluate patients’ symptoms and choose the appropriate treatments.
The median annual wage for dentists is $156,240. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $72,840, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.
Median annual wages for dentists are as follows:
|Oral and maxillofacial surgeons||$208,000 or more|
|Orthodontists||$208,000 or more|
|Dentists, all other specialists||$146,970|
The median annual wages for dentists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Offices of dentists||$161,610|
|Outpatient care centers||$146,530|
|Offices of physicians||$146,110|
Wages vary with the dentist’s location, number of hours worked, specialty, and number of years in practice.
Dentists’ work schedules vary. Some work evenings and weekends to meet their patients’ needs. Many dentists work less than 40 hours a week, although some work considerably more.
Job Outlook for Dentists
Overall employment of dentists is projected to grow 7 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations.
Demand for dental services will increase as the population ages. Many members of the aging baby-boom generation will need dental work. Because those in each generation are more likely to keep their teeth than those in past generations, more dental care will be needed in the years to come. In addition, there will be increased demand for complicated dental work, including dental implants and bridges. The risk of oral cancer increases significantly with age, and complications can require both cosmetic and functional dental reconstruction.
Demand for dentists’ services will increase as studies continue to link oral health to overall health. They will need to provide care and instruction aimed at promoting good oral hygiene, rather than just providing treatments such as fillings.
Job Prospects for Dentists
Job prospects for dentists are expected to be relatively good, especially for dentists who are willing to work in underserved areas. However, the number of graduates from dental programs has increased in recent years. And the rate at which these workers leave the occupation is expected to be lower than that for other occupations. Therefore, there may be competition for jobs, particularly in areas where there are already sufficient numbers of dentists.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2018||Projected Employment, 2028||Change, 2018-28|
|Oral and maxillofacial surgeons||5,900||6,300||7||400|
|Dentists, all other specialists||5,200||5,400||5||200|