A dentist is a physician who practices in the field of dentistry, which is the study of the teeth, mouth, gums, and other related areas. General dentistry involves cleaning teeth, patient education on oral care and how to clean teeth properly, as well as teaching brushing and flossing techniques to improve oral health.
Dentists also perform basic procedures on patients such as taking X-rays, filling cavities, polishing teeth, as well as minor surgical procedures such as tooth extractions, crowns, and root canals.
In addition, dentists might choose to pursue a particular specialty to expand their customer base or increase cash flow. The most common specialties are:
- Pediatric: Specializes in treating children’s teeth, gums, and mouth.
- Prosthodontics: Specializes in cosmetic dentistry and the appearance of teeth. They might provide prosthetic teeth in the event of tooth loss or injury or provide tooth caps such as porcelain veneers.
- Periodontics: Relates to everything dealing with gums, including the area around the gums, gingivitis, and gum disease.
- Endodontics: Specializes in treating the pulp. This is the inner part of the tooth that’s composed of nerves and blood vessels.
- Orthodontics: Specializes in the alignment and straightening of the teeth, as well as conditions or ailments of the jaw and other bones around the mouth. Those heavily educated in orthodontics might choose to start an orthodontics practice and forego general dentistry practices.
Education and Experience Needed
A candidate interested in becoming a dentist must first obtain a bachelor’s degree in a science-related field such as biology, zoology, chemistry, or pre-dentistry, although the latter isn’t offered at nearly as many schools.
Once graduating with a bachelor’s degree, potential dentists must enroll in a dental school accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA). These schools offer degrees as a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD), a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), or both. When applying to these schools, applicants must also submit a Dental Admission Test.
After completing a four-year program, some dentists might have to complete a residency, but it’s not always mandatory. After graduation, all dentists must obtain a license to practice in their state by passing Part I and Part II of the National Board Dental Examinations.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dentists make a median average yearly salary of $153,900, or about $73.99 an hour. In addition, the projected job growth rate of dentists is expected to rise by 17 percent over the next 10 years, which is far higher than the national average for all jobs.
Average Duties and Tasks
The normal workplace for dentists is usually a clinic, private practice, or dental hospital, and little varies between each place of employment. However, it’s the patients and interactions with them that provide dentists with an entertaining or challenging workday. Dentists that own their own practices have more to deal with than just dentistry.
They must also manage hygienists, receptionists, and other employees, run a business from the top-down, set prices, and manage other day-to-day operations.
Most dentists can prep for the day by arriving 30 minutes prior to their first patient, and depending on the facilities, dentists can serve anywhere from two to four patients at a time. They must also chat with patients to build a good rapport, help them relax, and perform any cleaning or other procedures without a hitch.
On a typical day, the average dentist sees about 20 patients, with most requiring simple procedures or teeth cleanings. Many dentists only work four days a week.
Finding advancement opportunities as a dentist isn’t always easy, as the education involved puts most dentists at the ceiling when it comes to earnings. However, entrepreneurs can advance in several ways. If a dentist works for a dental business group or for another dentist, branching out on his or her own can create more gross net income.
To increase this income, dentists must also build relationships with current patients while attracting new ones through digital and social media marketing.
Another way dentists can advance in the field is by learning one or more specialties. This brings in more business, while also marketing the business by word of mouth. In addition to education, networking with other dentists or joining a state or national dental association can create contacts for higher-paying jobs.
More adventurous dentists also find jobs in the industry by working abroad in states and first-world countries that have a high demand for and a low supply of dentists, such as Alaska, New Zealand, or countries in Europe.