Dentists Career Information
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Significant Points· Most dentists have at least 8 years of education beyond high school.
· Although employment growth will provide some job opportunities, most jobs will result from the need to replace the large number of dentists projected to retire.
· Dental care will increasingly focus on prevention, which involves teaching people how better to care for their teeth.
Nature of the WorkDentists diagnose, prevent, and treat teeth and tissue problems. They remove decay, fill cavities, examine x rays, place protective plastic sealants on children’s teeth, straighten teeth, and repair fractured teeth. They also perform corrective surgery on gums and supporting bones to treat gum diseases. Dentists extract teeth and make models and measurements for dentures to replace missing teeth. They provide instruction on diet, brushing, flossing, use of fluorides, and other aspects of dental care, as well. They also administer anesthetics and write prescriptions for antibiotics and other medications.
Dentists use a variety of equipment, including x-ray machines, drills, and instruments such as mouth mirrors, probes, forceps, brushes, and scalpels. They wear masks, gloves, and safety glasses to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases.
Dentists in private practice oversee a variety of administrative tasks, including bookkeeping, and buying equipment and supplies. They may employ and supervise
Most dentists are general practitioners, handling a variety of dental needs. Other dentists practice in 1 of 9 specialty areas. Orthodontists, the largest group of specialists, straighten teeth by applying pressure to the teeth with braces or retainers. The next largest group, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, operate on the mouth and jaws. The remainder may specialize as pediatric dentists (focusing on dentistry for children); periodontists (treating gums and bones supporting the teeth); prosthodontists (replacing missing teeth with permanent fixtures, such as crowns and bridges, or removable fixtures, such as dentures); endodontists (performing root canal therapy); public health dentists (promoting good dental health and preventing dental diseases within the community); oral pathologists (studying oral diseases); or oral and maxillofacial radiologists (diagnosing diseases in the head and neck through the use of imaging technologies).
Working ConditionsMost dentists work 4 or 5 days a week. Some
work evenings and weekends to meet their patients’ needs. Most full-time dentists
work about 40 hours a week, but others work more. Initially, dentists may work
more hours as they establish their practice.
Experienced dentists often work fewer hours. A considerable number continue
in part-time practice well beyond the usual retirement age.
Most dentists are “solo practitioners,” meaning they own their own businesses and work alone or with a small staff. Some dentists have partners, and a few work for other dentists as associate dentists.
Dentists held about 158,000 jobs in 2009. Employment was distributed among general practitioners and specialists as follows:
|Oral and maxillofacial surgeons||6,000|
|Dentists, all other specialists||5,000|
About one third of dentists were self-employed and not incorporated. Almost all dentists work in private practice. According to ADA, 78 percent of dentists in private practice are sole proprietors, and 14 percent belong to a partnership. A few salaried dentists work in hospitals and offices of physicians.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.All 50 States and the District of Columbia
require dentists to be licensed. In most States, a candidate must graduate from
a dental school accredited by the American Dental Association’s Commission on
Dental Accreditation, and pass written and practical examinations to qualify
for a license. Candidates may fulfill the written part of the State
licensing requirements by passing the National Board Dental Examinations. Individual
States or regional testing agencies administer the written or practical examinations.
Currently, about 17 States require dentists to obtain a specialty license before practicing as a specialist. Requirements include 2 to 4 years of postgraduate education and, in some cases, completion of a special State examination. Most State licenses permit dentists to engage in both general and specialized practice. Dentists who want to teach or do research usually spend an additional 2 to 5 years in advanced dental training, in programs operated by dental schools or hospitals.
Dental schools require a minimum of 2 years of college-level predental education. However, most dental students have at least a bachelor’s degree. Predental education emphasizes coursework in the sciences.
All dental schools require applicants to take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). When selecting students, schools consider scores earned on the DAT, applicants’ grade point average, and information gathered through recommendations and interviews.
Dental school usually lasts 4 academic years. Studies begin with classroom instruction and laboratory work in basic sciences, including anatomy, microbiology, biochemistry, and physiology. Beginning courses in clinical sciences, including laboratory techniques, also are provided at this time. During the last 2 years, students treat patients, usually in dental clinics, under the supervision of licensed dentists.
Most dental schools award the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS). The rest award an equivalent degree, Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD).
Dentistry requires diagnostic ability and manual skills. Dentists should have good visual memory, excellent judgment of space and shape, a high degree of manual dexterity, and scientific ability. Good business sense, self-discipline, and communication skills are helpful for success in private practice. High school and college students who want to become dentists should take courses in biology, chemistry, physics, health, and mathematics.
Some dental school graduates work for established dentists as associates for a year or two in order to gain experience and save money to equip an office of their own. Most dental school graduates, however, purchase an established practice or open a new one immediately after graduation. Each year, about one-fourth to one-third of new graduates enroll in postgraduate training programs to prepare for a dental specialty.
Job OutlookEmployment of dentists is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2012. Although employment growth will provide some job opportunities, most jobs will result from the need to replace the large number of dentists projected to retire. Job prospects should be good if the number of dental school graduates does not grow significantly, thus keeping the supply of newly qualified dentists near current levels.
Demand for dental care should grow substantially through 2012. As members of the baby-boom generation advance into middle age, a large number will need maintenance on complicated dental work, such as bridges. In addition, elderly people are more likely to retain their teeth than were their predecessors, so they will require much more care than in the past. The younger generation will continue to need preventive checkups despite treatments such as fluoridation of the water supply, which decreases the incidence of tooth decay.
Dental care will focus more on prevention, including teaching people how better to care for their teeth. Dentists will increasingly provide care that is aimed at preventing tooth loss—rather than simply providing treatments, such as fillings. Improvements in dental technology also will allow dentists to provide more effective and less painful treatment to their patients.
However, the employment of dentists is not expected to grow as rapidly as the demand for dental services. As their practices expand, dentists are likely to hire more dental hygienists and dental assistants to handle routine services.
Median annual earnings of salaried dentists were $139,920 in May 2009. Earnings vary according to number of years in practice, location, hours worked, and specialty.
Self-employed dentists in private practice tend to earn more than do salaried dentists, and a relatively large proportion of dentists is self-employed. Like other business owners, these dentists must provide their own health insurance, life insurance, and retirement benefits.
Related OccupationsDentists examine, diagnose, prevent, and treat diseases and abnormalities. So do
For information on dentistry as a career, a list of accredited dental schools, and a list of State boards of dental examiners, contact: For information on admission to dental schools, contact: Persons interested in practicing dentistry should obtain the requirements for licensure from the board of dental examiners of the State in which they plan to work. To obtain information on scholarships, grants, and loans, including Federal financial aid, prospective dental students should contact the office of student financial aid at the schools to which they apply.
Sources of Additional Information
For information on dentistry as a career, a list of accredited dental schools, and a list of State boards of dental examiners, contact:
For information on admission to dental schools, contact:
Persons interested in practicing dentistry should obtain the requirements for licensure from the board of dental examiners of the State in which they plan to work.
To obtain information on scholarships, grants, and loans, including Federal financial aid, prospective dental students should contact the office of student financial aid at the schools to which they apply.