Dentists diagnose and treat problems with teeth and tissues in the mouth, along with giving advice and administering care to help prevent future problems.
Dentists held about 146,800 jobs in 2012. Some dentists own their own businesses and work alone or with a small staff.
How to Become a Dentist
Dentists must be licensed in all states; requirements vary by state. To qualify for a license in most states, applicants must graduate from an accredited dental school and pass written and practical exams.
The median annual wage for dentists was $149,310 in May 2012.
Employment of dentists is projected to grow 16 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.
|Quick Facts: Dentists|
$149,310 per year
$71.79 per hour
|Doctoral or professional degree|
|See How to Become One|
|16% (Faster than average)|
Dentists typically do the following:
- Remove decay from teeth and fill cavities
- Repair cracked or fractured teeth and remove teeth
- Straighten teeth to correct bite issues
- Place sealants or whitening agents on teeth
- Administer anesthetics to keep patients from feeling pain during procedures
- Write prescriptions for antibiotics or other medications
- Examine x rays of teeth, gums, the jaw, and nearby areas for problems
- Make models and measurements for dental appliances, such as dentures, to fit patients
- Teach patients about diet, flossing, 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.
Most dentists are general practitioners and handle a variety of dental needs. Other dentists practice in one of nine 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, including 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 bone supporting the teeth.
Prosthodontists replace missing teeth with permanent fixtures, such as crowns and bridges, or with removable fixtures such as dentures.
Dentists held about 146,800 jobs in 2012. 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 usually work in offices. They wear masks, gloves, and safety glasses to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases.
Most dental students need at least a bachelor’s degree before entering dental school; requirements vary by school. All dental schools require applicants to have completed certain required science courses, such as biology and chemistry. Majoring in a science, such as biology, might increase the chances of being accepted, but no specific major is required to enter most dental programs.
College undergraduates who plan on applying to dental school must usually take the Dental Acceptance Test (DAT) during their junior year. Admission to dental school can be competitive. Dental schools use these tests along with other factors, such as grade point average and recommendations, to admit students into their programs.
Dental schools require students to take classes in subjects such as local anesthesia, anatomy, periodontology (the study of oral disease and health), and radiology. All dental schools include practice where students work with patients in a clinical setting under the supervision of a licensed dentist.
High school students who want to become dentists should take courses in chemistry, physics, biology, anatomy, and mathematics.
All nine dental specialties require dentists to complete additional training before practicing that specialty. They must usually complete a 1- or 2-year residency in a program related to their specialty. General dentists do not require any 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
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 a written and practical exam.
In addition, a dentist who wants to practice in one of the nine specialties must have a license in that specialty. This usually requires 2 to 4 years of additional education after dental school and, in some cases, the completion of a special state exam. A postgraduate residency term also may be required, usually lasting up to 2 years.
Communication skills. Dentists must have excellent communication skills. They must be able to communicate effectively with patients, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and receptionists.
Detail oriented. Dentists must be detail oriented so patients receive appropriate treatments and medications. They must also pay attention to space, shape, and color of teeth. 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 work with tools in a limited area.
Leadership skills. Most dentists work in their own practice. This requires them to manage and lead a staff.
Organizational skills. Strong organizational skills, including keeping accurate records of patient care, are critical in both medical and business settings.
Patience. Dentists may work for long periods of time with patients who need special attention. Children and patients with a fear of dental work may require a lot of patience.
Physical stamina. Dentists should be comfortable performing physical tasks, such as bending over patients for long periods.
Problem-solving skills. Dentists need strong problem-solving skills. They must evaluate patients’ symptoms and choose the appropriate treatments.