Becoming a Dentist: Job Description & Salary Info

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Get the truth about a dentist's salary, education requirements and career prospects. Read the job description and see the pros and cons to becoming a dentist.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Dentist

A dentist finds and fixes issues with gums, teeth and other parts of the mouth. While the salary prospects for dentists are high, the career requires a great deal of education to become a dentist. You can learn about the pros and cons to becoming a dentist by reading below.

PROS of Becoming a Dentist
Salary is above the national average (about $164,570 yearly)*
Flexible work hours at some dental offices*
Satisfaction from helping patients with dental issues*
Variety of specialization options*

CONS of Becoming a Dentist
Extended education requirements*
State license is necessary to practice*
Evening and weekend work hours can be required depending on the needs of patients*
Exposure to infectious disease from patients if proper safety precautions aren't followed*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job Description

When meeting with a patient, a dentist typically fills cavities and removes any decay on the patient's teeth. Whitening agents or sealants can be used if necessary or requested by the patient. While teeth might need removal if they are damaged, most fractures or cracks in teeth are repaired by a dentist. A dentist also gives advice to patients and recommends different products or techniques that can help with oral health.

Salary Information

Dentists earned an average of $164,570 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2013. This salary indicates that dentists made about $79 an hour. New Hampshire, Delaware, Vermont, North Dakota, and Alaska were the top five paying states for dentists in May 2013.

Job Outlook

A faster than average employment growth for dentists is expected by the BLS. From 2012 to 2022, this growth is thought to be around 16%. Trends like population growth contribute to this rise in employment. There are also several studies that connect oral health to overall health. As a result, public demand for dentists is expected to continue to grow.

Career Requirements

Training, Education and Licensing

To enter dental school, you must first acquire a bachelor's degree. Additional requirements for dental school vary, but generally, you'll need to have completed biology and chemistry classes. You will also have to pass the Dental Acceptance Test during your junior year. After you graduate from dental school, a residency will be required; this will offer you the opportunity to work under a licensed dentist and receive work experience on real patients.

Overall, you might spend a total of eight years or more working on your education. You'll have to complete a written and practical examination to receive your state license to practice.

What Do Employers Want?

Employers generally want dentists who already have acquired their state license to practice. Some employers offer tuition reimbursement options for new dentists. Communication skills are also important for employers since friendly dentists can attract repeat patients. Having a large and regular patient base can help ensure a steady income for the office. Continue to read below to learn some information that was taken from real job postings for dentists in November 2012.

  • Communication skills are a must for a dentist position in South Carolina as the employer wants the dentist to have a good rapport with patients.
  • A Florida business needs a dentist who can coordinate services with a laboratory.
  • Pediatric dentistry or public dental health experience is preferred for a dentist opening in Minnesota.
  • A business in Tennessee is looking for a dentist who can travel overnight once a month for training sessions.

How Can You Stand Out as a Dentist?

Dentists can focus on acquiring a practice specialty to set themselves apart from others. State licenses typically have specialization options in different areas. You can gear your education and practice towards being a pediatric dentist, orthodontist, oral pathologist, oral and maxillofacial surgeon, endodontist, prosthodontist or periodontist. Each of these options focus in a different area like diagnosing oral diseases, operating on mouths, straightening teeth or treating gums and bones.

Keep in mind that by acquiring a specialty, you're going to have to spend additional time training beyond your standard requirements. The training and education process for a dental specialty can take 2-4 years to complete.

Other Occupational Choices

If you're not interested in working on teeth, but you want to be in a medical profession that helps people, consider becoming a family and general physician. In this role, you'll take care of conditions that impact the everyday lives of your patients. The conditions you might help with include broken bones, sprains and infections. Family and general practitioners earned an average of about $183,940 as of May 2013. The BLS also reported the employment growth for this occupation from 2012-2022 is about 20%.

If you would rather work with animals instead of people, you could consider becoming a veterinarian. These professionals treat and examine animals for health problems. Veterinarians also give advice to owners about health conditions and caring tips. The BLS from 2012 to 2022 projected a 12% growth in employment for veterinarians. In May 2013, veterinarians had average yearly salaries of around $96,140.

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