Dentists

Career, Salary and Education Information

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

  • Dentist - See Me Smile Dental - Santa Barbara, CA

    Educate patients and parents of patients on maintaining proper oral health *Communicate with dental staff on our team regarding patient treatment

  • Dentist - See Me Smile Dental - Santa Maria, CA

    Educate patients and parents of patients on maintaining proper oral health *Communicate with dental staff on our team regarding patient treatment

  • Associate General Dentist - Gentle Dental of New England - West Roxbury, MA

See all Dentist jobs

What Dentists Do[About this section] [To Top]

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[About this section] [To Top]

Dentists hold about 153,500 jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up dentists is distributed as follows:

Dentists, general 132,800
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons 6,800
Orthodontists 6,600
Dentists, all other specialists 6,400
Prosthodontists 900

The largest employers of dentists are as follows:

Offices of dentists 71%
Self-employed workers 19
Government 3
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

Most dentists work full time. Some work evenings and weekends to meet their patients' needs. The number of hours worked varies greatly among dentists.

How to Become a Dentist[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Dentists near you!

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.

Dentist Training

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.

Dentist Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for dentists is $159,770. 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 $67,660, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

Median annual wages for dentists are as follows:

Orthodontists $208,000 or more
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons 208,000 or more
Dentists, all other specialists 173,000
Dentists, general 153,900
Prosthodontists 126,050

The median annual wages for dentists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Offices of dentists $164,130
Government 156,640
Offices of physicians 143,070
Outpatient care centers 137,610

Earnings vary with the dentist's location, number of hours worked, specialty, and number of years in practice.

Most dentists work full time. Some work evenings and weekends to meet their patients' needs. The number of hours worked varies greatly among dentists.

Job Outlook for Dentists[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of dentists is projected to grow 17 percent over the next ten years, much 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 good. There are still areas of the country where patients need dental care but have little access to it. Job prospects will be especially good for dentists who are willing to work in these areas.

Employment projections data for Dentists, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Dentists 153,500 179,900 17 26,400
  Dentists, general 132,800 156,000 17 23,200
  Oral and maxillofacial surgeons 6,800 7,900 17 1,200
  Orthodontists 6,600 7,700 17 1,100
  Prosthodontists 900 1,100 17 200
  Dentists, all other specialists 6,400 7,200 12 800


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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