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Dentistry is one of the fastest-growing medical jobs in the country at this time. A dentist salary can start out around $80,000 before the practitioner is even fully certified, making the career an extremely attractive one. If you love the idea of helping patients keep their mouths healthy and contributing to individuals’ overall confidence and health, then dentistry could be a good job for you.

What Does a Dentist Do?

The term “dentist” covers a wide variety of professional services. Dentists may choose to be general practitioners or specialize in nine different areas. A dentist salary will vary based on their level of expertise, specializations, and experience. Dentists also may choose to run their own practice or work within a larger medical practice, which will also affect dentist salary.

General Practitioner Roles and Responsibilities

a dentist taking care of a patient

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General practitioners typically perform basic duties to help patients keep their teeth clean and healthy. A general practitioner will earn that dentist salary by:

  • Removing decay from teeth 
  • Spotting cavities and filling them when necessary 
  • Repairing teeth that have cracked or fractured 
  • Pulling teeth
  • Performing cosmetic services such as whitening or sealing teeth 
  • Prescribing some basic medications, like antibiotics 
  • Taking x-rays of teeth, gums, and the jaw 
  • Making and fitting dental appliances like dentures 
  • Teaching patients about basic dental healthcare, including brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash appropriately

Dental Specialties

woman receiving treatment from a dentist

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Dentist salary varies widely based on whether the practitioner is a general practitioner or a specialist. There are nine different types of specialty dental areas:

  1. Dental public health specialists, who promote good dental health in specific communities 
  2. Endodontists, who perform root canals 
  3. Oral and maxillofacial radiologists, who use imaging techniques to diagnose disease 
  4. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons, who operate on the mouth, jaw, teeth, gums, and neck 
  5. Oral pathologists, who diagnose various conditions in the mouth 
  6. Orthodontists, who straighten teeth using braces or other devices 
  7. Pediatric dentists, who work primarily with children 
  8. Periodontists, who treat the gums and the bones that support the teeth 
  9. Prosthodontists, who help patients deal with missing teeth by creating and installing permanent teeth fixtures, like crowns and bridges

Although they are not usually considered dentists, there are also dental researchers who may teach at academic institutions or perform medical science research related to dentistry.

Dental Assistants

Dentists rely heavily on their assistants to help run their practices and care for their patients. Private practice dentists will usually employ a team of dental assistants who may command pay nearly as high as a dentist salary in some cases. These assistants include:

  • Dental hygienists 
  • Dental assistants
  • Laboratory technicians
  • Dental receptionists

Dentist Salary and Job Outlook

male dentist

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The median dentist salary in mid-2017 was just over $158,000, although the lowest 10 percent of dental professionals earned less than half this, $70,000. The highest 10 percent in the profession earned much more, at a median dentist salary of $208,000.

Not surprisingly, dentist salary directly correlates to specialty. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons and orthodontists earned $208,000 or more annually, while general practitioners earned a dentist salary closer to $150,000. Dentists who opted to run their own practices or work for the government earned about $160,000 annually, while outpatient center dentists earned the least, around $140,000.

Demand for Dentists

There is a rising national demand for dentists. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates the employment of dentists will rise 19 percent by 2026. This is much, much faster than the average increase in employment across all occupations. This makes job prospects for dentists very good and the probability of earning a dentist salary after completing your dental training very high. In fact, in 2016, more than 70 percent of all dentists worked in their own offices and nearly one in five were self-employed.

General practitioners are definitely in the highest demand, with nearly 133,000 practicing today. However, if you do want to specialize, these dental professionals also find themselves to be a hot commodity. There were nearly 7,000 oral and maxillofacial surgeons in the country two years ago, and there are many more practicing today.

How to Become a Dentist

dentist taking a look at the patient's mouth

image source: Pixabay

While the basic educational requirements for being a dentist are similar everywhere, a dentist must be licensed in the state in which they word. Most states require a dentist:

  • Graduate from an accredited dental school 
  • Pass state-specific written and practical exams 
  • Complete postdoctoral training before practicing a specialty

Dentists must complete dental school after first receiving an undergraduate degree. Unlike most other medical professions, dentistry does not have a specific pre-medical bachelor’s degree requirement. Majoring in a science field can improve your chances of being accepted to dental school, however. Once in dental school, you will learn about:

  • Local anesthesia 
  • Anatomy 
  • Periodontics 
  • Oral disease 
  • Oral health 
  • Radiology

Dentists must complete clinical work as well, during which they practice under the supervision of a licensed dentist. Of course, dental specialties require additional training that may take up to four years to complete. Dentists who specialize in surgery or conduct research full-time will go through additional post-doctoral work and advanced dental training.

Characteristics of a Good Dentist

A good dentist will have certain positive personality traits that will help them work well with patients. These traits may be cultivated while you are training to become a dentist and include:

  • Good communication skills 
  • Close attention to detail 
  • Dexterity 
  • Strong leadership abilities 
  • Good organizational skills 
  • Patience 
  • Physical endurance 
  • Strong problem-solving skills

The Country Needs Good Dentists

Thanks to the strong demand for dentists and dental experts, the job outlook for dentists is great for the coming years. Even if you do not want to become an expert in a dental specialty, you can certainly benefit both yourself and your patients by becoming a general practitioner in dentistry. With the flexible options for employment, dentists can choose whether to run their own practice or work for another entity. Most dentists do work full-time, and some even offer evening or weekend hours in order to meet patient needs. You will be able to decide how to best structure your practice if you choose to go out on your own.

Featured Image from Pixabay

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