What They Do: Dentists diagnose and treat problems with patients’ teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth.
Work Environment: Some dentists have their own business and work alone or with a small staff. Other dentists have partners in their practice. Still others work as associate dentists for established dental practices.
How to Become One: Dentists must be licensed in the state in which they work. Licensure requirements vary by state, although candidates usually must graduate from an accredited dental program and pass written and clinical exams.
Salary: The median annual wage for dentists is $159,200.
Job Outlook: Overall employment of dentists is projected to grow 7 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations. The demand for dental services will increase as the population ages and as research continues to link oral health to overall health.
Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of dentists with similar occupations.
Dentists diagnose and treat problems with patients' teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth. They provide advice and instruction on taking care of the teeth and gums and on diet choices that affect oral health.
Dentists typically do the following:
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.
In addition, dentists in private practice oversee a variety of administrative tasks, including bookkeeping and buying equipment and supplies. They employ and supervise dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental laboratory technicians, and receptionists.
Most dentists are general practitioners and handle a variety of dental needs. Other dentists practice in 1 of 9 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, performing 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 bones supporting the teeth.
Prosthodontists replace missing teeth with permanent fixtures, such as crowns and bridges, or with removable fixtures, such as dentures.
Dentists hold about 155,000 jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up dentists is distributed as follows:
|Oral and maxillofacial surgeons||5,900|
|Dentists, all other specialists||5,200|
The largest employers of dentists are as follows:
|Offices of dentists||74%|
|Offices of physicians||2%|
|Outpatient care centers||2%|
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 wear masks, gloves, and safety glasses to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases.
Dentists' work schedules vary. Some work evenings and weekends to meet their patients' needs. Many dentists work less than 40 hours a week, although some work considerably more.
Get the education you need: Find schools for Dentists near you!
Dentists must be licensed in the state(s) in which they work. Licensure requirements vary by state, although candidates usually must graduate from an accredited dental school and pass written and practical exams. Dentists who practice in a specialty area must complete postdoctoral training.
All dental schools require applicants to have completed certain science courses, such as biology and chemistry, before entering dental school. Students typically need at least a bachelor's degree to enter most dental programs, although no specific major is required. However, majoring in a science, such as biology, might increase one's chances of being accepted. Requirements vary by school.
Applicants to dental schools usually take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). Dental schools use these tests along with other factors, such as grade point average, interviews, and recommendations, to admit students into their programs.
Dental school programs typically include coursework in subjects such as local anesthesia, anatomy, periodontics (the study of oral disease and health), and radiology. All programs at dental schools include clinical experience in which students work directly with patients under the supervision of a licensed dentist. The Commission on Dental Accreditation, part of the American Dental Association, has accredited more than 60 dental school programs.
High school students who want to become dentists should take courses in chemistry, physics, biology, anatomy, and math.
All nine dental specialties require dentists to complete additional training before practicing that specialty. This training is usually a 2- to 4-year residency in a program related to the specialty. General dentists do not need 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.
Dentists must be licensed in the state(s) in which they work. 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 the written and practical National Board Dental Examinations.
In addition, a dentist who wants to practice in one of the nine specialties must have a license in that specialty. Licensure requires the completion of a residency after dental school and, in some cases, the completion of a special state exam.
Communication skills. Dentists must communicate effectively with patients, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and receptionists.
Detail oriented. Dentists must pay attention to the shape and color of teeth and to the space between them. 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 must work carefully with tools in a small space and ensure the safety of their patients.
Leadership skills. Most dentists manage and lead staff in their own dental practices.
Organizational skills. Keeping accurate records of patient care is critical in both medical and business settings.
Patience. Dentists may work for long periods with patients who need special attention. Children and patients with a fear of dental work may require a lot of patience.
Physical stamina. Dentists typically bend over patients for long periods.
Problem-solving skills. Dentists must evaluate patients' symptoms and choose the appropriate treatments.
The median annual wage for dentists is $159,200. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $79,670, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.
Median annual wages for dentists are as follows:
|Orthodontists||$208,000 or more|
|Prosthodontists||$208,000 or more|
|Oral and maxillofacial surgeons||$208,000 or more|
|Dentists, all other specialists||$147,220|
The median annual wages for dentists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Offices of dentists||$163,470|
|Outpatient care centers||$149,830|
|Offices of physicians||$149,310|
Wages vary with the dentist's location, number of hours worked, specialty, and number of years in practice.
Dentists’ work schedules vary. Some work evenings and weekends to meet their patients’ needs. Many dentists work less than 40 hours a week, although some work considerably more.
Overall employment of dentists is projected to grow 7 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations.
Demand for dental services will increase as the population ages. Many members of the aging baby-boom generation will need dental work. Because those in each generation are more likely to keep their teeth than those in past generations, more dental care will be needed in the years to come. In addition, there will be increased demand for complicated dental work, including dental implants and bridges. The risk of oral cancer increases significantly with age, and complications can require both cosmetic and functional dental reconstruction.
Demand for dentists' services will increase as studies continue to link oral health to overall health. They will need to provide care and instruction aimed at promoting good oral hygiene, rather than just providing treatments such as fillings.
Job prospects for dentists are expected to be relatively good, especially for dentists who are willing to work in underserved areas. However, the number of graduates from dental programs has increased in recent years. And the rate at which these workers leave the occupation is expected to be lower than that for other occupations. Therefore, there may be competition for jobs, particularly in areas where there are already sufficient numbers of dentists.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2018||Projected Employment, 2028||Change, 2018-28|
|Oral and maxillofacial surgeons||5,900||6,300||7||400|
|Dentists, all other specialists||5,200||5,400||5||200|
A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.