Dentists usually complete at least 8 years of education beyond
Employment is projected to grow about as fast as average,
and most job openings will result from the need to replace the
large number of dentists expected to retire.
Job prospects should be good.
Nature of the Work
Dentists diagnose, prevent, and treat problems with teeth
or mouth tissue. They remove decay, fill cavities, examine
x rays, place protective plastic sealants on childrenís 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, the use of fluorides, and other
aspects of dental care. 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
Dentists in private practice oversee a variety of administrative
tasks, including bookkeeping and buying equipment and supplies.
They may employ and supervise dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental laboratory technicians,
Most dentists are general practitioners, handling a variety
of dental needs. Other dentists practice in any of nine 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, operates on the mouth and jaws. The remainder
may specialize as pediatric dentists (focusing on dentistry
for children); periodontists (treating gums and bone
supporting the teeth); prosthodontists (replacing missing
teeth with permanent fixtures, such as crowns and bridges,
or with 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).
Most dentists work 4 or 5 days a week. Some work evenings
and weekends to meet their patientsí needs. Most full-time
dentists work between 35 and 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.
Many continue in part-time practice well beyond the usual
Most dentists are solo practitioners, meaning that 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.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
All 50 States and the District of Columbia require dentists
to be licensed. To qualify for a license in most States, candidates
must graduate from 1 of the 56 dental schools accredited by
the American Dental Associationís (ADAís) Commission on Dental
Accreditation in 2004, and then must pass written and practical
examinations. 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.
Dental schools require a minimum of 2 years of college-level
predental education, regardless of the major chosen. However,
most dental students have at least a bachelorís degree. Predental
education emphasizes coursework in science, and many applicants
to dental school major in a science such as biology or chemistry,
while other applicants major in another subject and take many
science courses as well. A few applicants are accepted to
dental school after 2 or 3 years of college and complete their
bachelorís degree while attending dental school.
All dental schools require applicants to take the Dental
Admissions Test (DAT). When selecting students, schools consider
scores earned on the DAT, applicantsí grade point averages,
and information gathered through recommendations and interviews.
Competition for admission to dental school is keen.
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).
Some dental school graduates work for established dentists
as associates for 1 to 2 years 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.
In 2004, 17 States licensed or certified dentists who intended
to practice in a specialty area. Requirements include 2 to
4 years of postgraduate education and, in some cases, the
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 conduct research usually
spend an additional 2 to 5 years in advanced dental training,
in programs operated by dental schools or hospitals. According
to the ADA, each year about 12 percent of new graduates enroll
in postgraduate training programs to prepare for a dental
Dentistry requires diagnostic ability and manual skills.
Dentists should have good visual memory, excellent judgment
regarding space and shape, a high degree of manual dexterity,
and scientific ability. Good business sense, self-discipline,
and good 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.
Dentists held about 150,000 jobs in 2004. Employment was
distributed among general practitioners and specialists as
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons
Dentists, all other specialists
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.
Employment of dentists is projected to grow about as fast
as average for all occupations through 2014. Although employment
growth will provide some job opportunities, most jobs will
result from the need to replace the large number of dentists
expected to retire. Job prospects should be good as new dentists
take over established practices or start their own.
Demand for dental care should grow substantially through
2014. As members of the baby-boom generation advance into
middle age, a large number will need 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. However, 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.
Dentists will increasingly provide care and instruction aimed
at preventing the loss of teeth, rather than simply providing
treatments such as fillings. Improvements in dental technology
also will allow dentists to offer more effective and less
painful treatment to their patients.
Median annual earnings of salaried dentists were $129,920
in May 2004. 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.
For information on dentistry as a career, a list of accredited
dental schools, and a list of State boards of dental examiners,
American Dental Association, Commission on Dental Accreditation,
211 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60611. Internet: http://www.ada.org/
For information on admission to dental schools, contact:
American Dental Education Association, 1400 K St., NW.,
Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20005. Internet: http://www.adea.org/
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.
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,