How much money a dentist makes depends on a variety of factors, which include the location of the practice, whether the services offered are general or specialized, and the type of employment (self-employed dentists earn almost 50 percent more than those working for a clinic or private office). The earning power of a dentist usually starts high, as experience is not necessarily the most important factor in deciding earnings.
Most dentists start with earnings around $60,000 and go up quickly, especially if they work for themselves. In 2008 the U.S. Department of Labor estimated that, as a national average, general dentists earn more than $120,000 a year, with the highest percentage going to those who work emergencies and take weekend patients. The lowest salaries are earned by those who work in state clinics and general medical centers, with annual median salaries of $68,810. The American Dental Association puts specialists' median salaries at $315,000 per year.
Of all the types of dentistry available, cosmetic specialties pay the best, with salaries reaching up to $500,000 a year, especially in states like California and New York, where some of the most renowned private offices in the field are located. Other specializations that pay particularly well are endodontics, which average $184,500 a year, and orthodontists, which come just a little higher at $186,810 per year. Dentists who offer pediatric care and those who specialize in certain populations, such as those with extreme fear, also earn more than regular dentists, even if the services offered are the same.
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates the daily earnings of a dentist at about $500 to $700. This is the norm used to average self-employed salaries, although it is sometimes also used to calculate private care and salaried jobs. For those who are self-employed, the average number of hours worked varies considerably, although most spend at least five hours at the office five days a week. Dentists who work weekends or take emergency calls often charge higher fees, sometimes earning as much as $1,000 a day.
Dentists' earnings also change significantly from state to state. While states like Delaware, Alaska and Connecticut all have average annual earnings of $180,000 or more, many southern states, including Louisiana and Oklahoma are under the $115,000 mark. The lowest earnings are in Puerto Rico, where dentists earn an average of $74,800 per year.
According to surveys conducted by PayScale.com, the average salary of a dentist increases only slightly with experience. Recent graduates with one year or less of experience can expect to make $98,353 in 2008, while those with over 20 years in their backgrounds will earn just under $130,000.