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Dentist Job Description, Career as a Dentist, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: College and dental college

Salary: Median—$129,920 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Dentists are health professionals who take care of the teeth, gums, and supporting bones of the mouth. They help their patients keep their teeth and gums healthy. They also treat diseased teeth and gums. Dentists sometimes detect general diseases of the body that can affect the condition of a patient's mouth.

Most dentists work as general practitioners in their own offices or with a group of dentists. They often have dental assistants and dental hygienists working for them. Under the dentist's direction, these helpers sometimes take X-rays, clean patients' teeth, and teach patients how to care for their teeth and gums at home. Dentists may take X-rays themselves. They examine patients' mouths for cavities, sores, swelling, or other signs of disease. They may fill cavities, pull teeth that cannot be saved, or replace missing teeth. Dentists use both hand and power tools. They may use a local or general anesthetic to keep patients comfortable during treatment. Some dentists do their own laboratory work. Others send this work out to dental laboratories. Sometimes general practitioners refer patients to specialists.

There are eight areas of specialization for dentists. Orthodontists straighten teeth by fitting them with wires or braces. Oral surgeons operate on the mouth and jaws. Endodontists treat diseases of the soft pulp inside the teeth. Oral pathologists diagnose and sometimes treat diseases of the mouth. Pedodontists specialize in dentistry for children and teenagers. Periodontists are concerned with problems of the gums. Prosthodontists replace missing teeth with artificial teeth. Public health dentists develop care programs. A small percentage of dentists also work in teaching, research, or administration jobs.

Education and Training Requirements

You need six to eight years of training after high school before you can work as a dentist. You must complete two to four years of college before entering a dental A dentist shows X-rays to a patient. There are several areas of specialization for dentists. (Photograph by Kelly A. Quin. Thomson Gale. Reproduced by permission.) college. Most students have at least a bachelor's degree when they begin dental college. The four-year program at a dental college leads to degrees as either a doctor of dental surgery (DDS) or a doctor of dental medicine (DMD) degree. Dentists who decide to specialize need from two to four years of further training.

All states require dentists to be licensed. They must graduate from an approved dental college and then pass a state board examination.

Getting the Job

Most newly licensed dentists enter private practice. Since it is becoming more difficult to open new practices, many dentists start out by working with a dentist who is already established. Other dentists find salaried positions in hospitals or government agencies. Your dental college placement office can give you information on how to begin a practice.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Dentists usually advance by building their practices. Some become specialists. Others may go into high-level teaching, research, or administration jobs. Employment in dentistry is expected to grow about as fast as average for all occupations through the year 2014. Most jobs will result from the need to replace the large number of dentists projected to retire. Job prospects will be good and the demand for dentists will continue to grow as the population ages and requires more dental care. The provision of dental insurance is also expected to create some new jobs for dentists. At the same time, dentists are likely to hire more dental hygienists and dental assistants to handle some of the services they provide, rather than hiring more dentists.

Working Conditions

Dentists must spend long hours on their feet. They must take precautions against infectious diseases and be able to deal with tense patients. They are rewarded, however, by the prestige of their profession. Because they often have several helpers, dentists must be able to supervise the work of others. They should also have good business sense. They must be responsible and careful professionals who can work well with their hands.

Dentists usually set their own schedules. Many choose to work more than forty hours per week, including some evening and Saturday hours. Some dentists prefer a part-time schedule.

Where to Go for More Information

American Dental Education Association
1400 K St. NW, Ste. 1100
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 289-7201

American Dental Association
211 E. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611-2678
(312) 440-2500

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings for dentists vary widely. They depend on the dentist's experience, skill, and willingness to work long hours. Earnings also depend on location and on the type of practice. In 2004 the median income for dentists was $129,920 per year. Since most dentists are self-employed, they must provide their own benefits.

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