Dentists examine, diagnose and treat diseases, injuries and malformations of the teeth and gums. For as long as we have teeth, there will always be a need for dentists. Meaning that the career is fast growing with lots of opportunities to progress and earn a high salary.
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Dentist examine, diagnose and treat diseases, injuries and malformations of the teeth and gums. They normally work with dental assistants to provide advice and instruction on taking care of teeth and gums. Dentists also contribute to the prevention other health related issues by providing advice on diet and lifestyle choices that can affect oral health.
Training to be a dentist requires achieving a bachelor’s degree and then enrolling into dental school to achieve either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. Once qualified, the career prospect for dentists are generally high, especially for dentists who want to work in underserved areas. However, in areas where there are lots of dental graduates, there can be competition for jobs. Typically, salaries for dentists are high and there is the opportunity to work flexibly as careers progress.
What they do
Dentists are responsible for the care of human teeth and gums. Their main job responsibility is to diagnose and treat problems with their patient’s teeth, gums and other related parts of the mouth.
Although the key responsibilities and duties of a dentist will change based on their experience and who they work for, their typical duties include:
- Diagnosing and providing appropriate dental treatment to their patients. This include things such as regular teeth cleaning, root canals, fillings, surgical extractions, implants or cosmetics such as dentures or teeth whitening
- Educating their patients and improving their understanding on correct oral health and hygiene
- Communicating with other dental staff (for example, administration staff, dental assistants or dental hygienists) regarding patient treatment plans
- Prescribing the right medications to patients if necessary and documenting them thoroughly
- Keeping documents regarding medications, diagnoses, treatment and consultations
- Supervising and leading other members on the dental team (e.g., technical and administrative staff)
Why they are needed
A babies first tooth appears at six months of age. After this, it is crucial to ensure these teeth are kept clean and healthy for the entirety of their life. Dentists are needed to assist the public on how to look after their teeth, keep their gums healthy and to fix any problems or diseases related to gums and teeth.
In America, there is a major risk of tooth loss, tooth decay and gum disease, which only increases with age and the highly skilled work of a dentist can help to prevent this. Below, are some statistics to highlight the importance of dentists, their work and why we need them:
- More than 1 in 4 (26%) adults in the United states have untreated tooth decay.
- Nearly half (46%) of all adults in the United States, aged 30 years or older, show signs of gum disease; with severe gum disease affecting about 9% of adults in the United States.
- Oral cancers are common in older adults, people over 55 years old, and dentists need to work to prevent this.
The pros and cons of a career as a Dentist
- Dentists often start on an excellent salary, which quite quickly increases with experience and time
- Dentists have a great career outlook. They are in heavy demand and there is no sign of this slowing down anytime soon as nobody is yet to make a magic cure to prevent and cure teeth decay or gum disease!
- Dentists are highly regarded and respected members of the community
- As dentist work in small teams, they often find the career quite sociable as they get to interact with other like-minded people on a daily basis
- No two days are the same and there is rarely a boring day as a dentist. In fact, every day, dentists get to meet and treat new patients and tackle new and novel problems
- As dentists progress and improve their knowledge, they can begin to set their own hours, which offers great flexibility and an excellent life fit
- A career in dentistry often leads to great personal and professional influence. Often, dentists advance to own their own practice or become part owners in a dental partnership. This allows dentists to be their own bosses and have control over their schedules, services and professional conduct
- The education required to become a dentist is lengthy and typically very expensive, which even with a high income, can take years to pay off. In fact, dental students typically come out of dental school with the average debt of $221,173 in 2012, according to American Student Dental Association.
- Dentistry can sometimes be very stressful and highly pressured when there is a dental emergency. What is more, is that dentists often acquire a lot of responsibility, even when they have just graduated, and they can often work long hours, which can place a huge amount of pressure on them.
- Dentists sometimes have to work on weekends or in the evenings. Typically, this is only in an emergency situation but not unheard of to often be on call and to work irregular hours in order to meet the needs of patients.
The Bureau of Labour Statistics has projected dentistry to grow 7% from 2018 to 2028, which is faster that the average for all occupations. In general, the demand for dental services will only increase as the population ages and many members of the generation will need dental work.
As each generation is more likely to keep their teeth for longer than the previous generations, it is more than likely that more dental care is going to be needed in the years to come. There is also an increased risk of oral cancer with the aging population, which means more cosmetic and functional dental reconstruction will be needed. This means that more dentists are required to support the generational needs.
Based on this increasing need for dentists with each generation, the job prospects are relatively good. The job market is also relatively large, especially for dentists willing to work in undeserved areas.
However, there are a lot of graduates from dental programmes, and this has increased in recent years. What is more, is that the rate at which workers are leaving the occupation is lower than that for many other occupations, meaning there may be competition for jobs. The competition for jobs is particularly high in areas where there are a significant number of dentists and dental graduates (e.g., bigger cities).
The career path to becoming a qualified dentist is lengthy and requires dedication and commitment. Firstly, dentist must enrol in, and complete, a bachelor’s degree program as dental schools generally require applicants to hold bachelor’s degrees before gaining admission. Although no specific pre-dental major is required, courses in biology, physics or chemistry can provide relevant preparation for dental school.
A top tip, recommended by many dentists, is to join a mentoring program or the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) whist completing an undergraduate degree. These programmes are designed to support aspiring dentists and guide them through the dental school admission process.
Aspiring dentists may also benefit from enrolling in dental school preparatory programmes. Programmes such as the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP), is a six week programme that allows students to gain career development advice, financial advice, academic enrichment and a first-hand view of dental work in a clinical setting.
After completing an undergraduate degree, dentists must then take (and pass) the Dental Admissions Test (DAT), which assesses their academic capacity and scientific knowledge.
Once accepted onto a dental programme, students must study to earn a dental degree which typically takes four years. Students get awarded either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree.
After achieving their degrees, dentists must then obtain a state licensure to practice. Requirements for this vary from state to state, but all states require dentist to pass the National Board Dental Examinations. This is a two-part written exam that covers dental sciences, ethics and clinical procedures. Additionally, dentists must also pass a practical examination that is administered or approved by their state’s licensing board.
After completing all this education, some dentists chose to specialize by taking continuing education courses. Others seek jobs in dental practices where they work as a general dentistry practitioner and progress to more senior positions.
Example Job Titles for Dentist
Benefits & Conditions
Income and benefits
Dentists are offered great salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for dentists was $159,200 in 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $79,670, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000. Orthodontists received the highest median annual wage, with a salary of $208,000 or more per annum.
Autonomy and flexibility
Like any career, dentist will not see too much flexibility to begin with. However, many dentists naturally progress to owning their own practices or to become associate partners in practices. This offers a lot of autonomy and flexibility in working hours, management and responsibilities.
Locations and commute
Dentists are needed wherever there are communities of people. Based on this, dentists shouldn’t struggle too much to find work in most locations. Similarly, dentist should be able to base their hunt for work on shorter commutes. It is worth noting that, as mentioned above, the job market is more competitive in locations where there are lots of graduating dentists, such as in bigger cities.
According to Zippia, the best states to be a dentist, based on average annual salary and number of job opportunities available, are:
- South Dakota, where the average annual salary is $168,310
- Wisconsin, where the average annual salary is $171,346
- Michigan, where the average annual salary is $166,523
- Iowa, where the average annual salary is $161,575
- Ohio, where the average annual salary is $157,094
The worst states, according to Zippia, are Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, California and Hawaii.
It is common for dentist to work in small teams, or alone. The often work for offices of dentists and tend to work closely to dental assistants and dental hygienists. As dentists progress, they can start their own business and have more control of their work environment.
Normally, a dental work environment is fast paced, but not overly high pressured. However, there may sometimes be medical emergencies that increase the environmental pressure. Dentists also have to wear masks, gloves and safety glasses to protect both themselves and their patients from infectious diseases.
Common Matching Personality Types
Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Dentist careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Dentist career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Dentist.
There is little empirical exploration as to the personality types of successful dentists, which is surprising as dentists work so closely with patients and therefore their personality plays a major role in how patients feel.
One study on 472 dental graduates concluded that, when using the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, concluded that when compared to the general population, dental graduates included more introverts (58.9%), thinkers (65.9%) and judgers (75.0%). It is important to note that this study did not highlight whether these dentists went on to have fulfilling and successful careers.
Another study also found that, again when using the MBTI, out of all specialized dentists, the ISTJ type was the most common, making up 54% of the total sample of 243 dentists. This suggests that dentists are introverts, but that they are rarely isolated as they know where they belong in life and understand how they can participate in organizing and establishing systems. They are also responsible organizers, they are steady and they are reliable and dutiful as they want to follow regulations.
Accomplishment and mastery
As dentists train for so long in order to become qualified and licensed, accomplishment is often quite high once they land that first job and continue to progress.
Dentists also master a lot of different skills throughout their career. To begin with, a career in general dental practice teaches lots of skills. Often, dentists go onto specialize in a particular area of dentistry, increasing their sense of accomplishment and mastery.
Meaning and contribution
Dental work has high meaning as it requires helping many people and improving the quality and outlook of their life. Dentists may also choose to teach, meaning their contribution to the field is also exceptionally high.
Dentist work various schedules but most work around 40 hours a week. It is important to note that some have to work evening and weekends to meet their patients needs.
However, as dentists get more knowledgeable and move up the ranks, they get more flexibility, especially when owning or being a partner in a practice. This means that dentistry can offer a great life fit later on.
Who will thrive?
Due to the commitment needed to dental education and for continuous career progression, those with a genuine excitement for and in interest in a career in dentistry are more likely to thrive and succeed. With this genuine interest for dentistry comes a genuine care for the health and feelings of their patients, which also leads individuals to succeed and thrive. Similar to this, those who are willing to keep learning and are willing to put in continuous effort will thrive in a career in dentistry.
Due to the likelihood that medical emergencies will occur, individuals who remain calm, composed and work well under pressure are likely to thrive in a dental environment. Successful dentists will also thrive when they are excellent communicators with both other dentists and their patients.
Who will struggle?
Individuals are likely to struggle if they aren’t physically fit enough to meet the requirements of leaning over patients all day. Individuals will also struggle if they are not willing to commit to the educational commitments needed to become a dentist, or to the initial long hours that accompany being a dentist.
Individuals who prefer to work alone, rather than as part of a team, may struggle with the teamwork and communication aspect of dentistry. Finally, those who cannot remain calm in unforeseen circumstances will struggle with the demands of a career in dentistry.
Skills and talents
- Communication skills, as dentists must be able to communicate effectively with patients, dental hygienists, dental assistants and members of the public
- Detail-orientatin, as dentists must pay exceptional attention to detail as they are working on small things and must get it right. They also need to pay attention to the shape and color of their patient’s teeth and to the space between them
- Dexterity, as dentists must be good with their hands as they have to work, using complexed tools, in very small space and must ensure the safety of their patients
- Leadership skills, as dentists, especially those with their own practices, may often need to manage staff (for example dental assistants or hygienists) or mentor other dentists
- Organizational skills, as dentists need to keep accurate records of patient care that are interpretable and accessible to other team members
- Patience, as dentists may work with patients who need special attention, including children and those with fear of dental work
- Problem-solving skills, as dentists must evaluate patients’ symptoms, establish what is wrong and then choose the appropriate treatment plan for them
- Physical stamina, as dentists need to be fit, healthy and display physical stamina as they will have to bend over a patient all day, which can be tough on them
- The ability to work well under pressure, as dentists must remain calm and work well under the immense pressure of medical emergencies. During this time, they must also maintain their excellent communication skills to be able to effectively communicate what they want with others
- Time management skills, as dentists need to have excellent time management skills as practices can become busy with multiple patients to be seen
As mentioned earlier, the education requirements to becoming a dentist are lengthy. First, aspiring dentists must enrol in an undergraduate bachelor’s degree programme, which is preferably science based. Graduates must then pass the Dental Association Test to be accepted into dental school.
On the competition of dental school, dentists get awarded either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. After this, they must complete state examinations to get a licence to practice in that state.
After qualifying as a dentist, some dentists specialize and will take further training and courses.
All dentists must pass the National Board Dental Examination for their state in order to practice. If they want to specialize further, they will have to obtain additional certificates.
How to Become
Dentists are a crucial healthcare professional that are responsible for the diagnosis and the treatment of diseases, injuries and malformations of the teeth and gums. After education, the job market for dentists is typically quite strong, especially in places where there are less dentists and dental graduates.
Those who tend to have successful and fulfilling careers tend to have a genuine interest in dentistry, work well under pressure, work well as part of a team, have excellent hand coordination, great communication skills and are organized and detail-oriented.
It is hard to do anything immediately, apart from to consider applying for relevant undergraduate degrees or to dentist school. You should also consider become a member of the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) or enrolling in The Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP).
Education and learning
The education process to becoming a dentist is lengthy and take dedication and commitment. Most dentists achieve a bachelor’s degree in a science related field. They must then pass the Dental Association Test before being accepted into Dental School.
Once accepted into dental school, dentists train for four years, this includes clinical practice. At the end of these four years, dentists then are then awarded either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree.
After graduating from dental school, dentists achieve their licence to practice by completing state exams. They may also choose to specialize, which requires further training.
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