Almost everyone, at some point in their lives, visits a dentist. Even if you never have a cavity, you still need annual visits for cleanings and checkups – and if you do have an issue, like a cavity or infection, it’s likely that you’re going to spend a lot more time in the dentist’s chair. Dentists are well compensated for playing this important role in healthcare, earning and average of more than $10,000 per month.
Dentists are doctors who specialize in caring for the mouth, primarily the teeth and gums. The majority of dentists are general practitioners, meaning they work with patients of all ages and perform a wide array of procedures. The most common tasks for a dentist are removing tooth decay and filling teeth, removing teeth that are broken or diseased, repairing cracks and fractures in the teeth, and examining the teeth and mouth for signs of problems, including oral cancers and tooth or gum disease. Should the dentist discover an issue, he or she will either develop a treatment plan or make a referral to a specialist. Completing these tasks often requires the use of X-rays or digital imaging, as well as administering anesthesia.
Dentists are also focused on preventive care and cosmetic procedures. They apply whitening agents or sealants to protect teeth, and also provide education and advice on how to properly care for your teeth. This might include education related to proper oral hygiene (brushing and flossing) and diet. Dentists are also approved to write prescriptions, most commonly antibiotics and pain medications.
As with any medical provider, dentists must complete post-graduate training and have a license to practice. Typically, dentists earn a bachelor’s degree in a science-related discipline (biology is most common) and then attend dental school. Admission to dental school is contingent upon undergraduate performance as well as the applicant’s score on the Dental Admissions Test. Depending on the dental school, a student earns either a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or DMD (Doctor of Medical Dentistry) degree, which takes four years of full-time study. Some schools offer a concurrent bachelor’s-doctorate program, which shaves a few years off the time required to become a dentist.
Upon completion of dental school, prospective dentists must become licensed in the state where they plan to practice. This involves passing written and clinical exams. In most cases, the written exam is the first two parts of the National Board Dental Examinations; each state has its own regulations regarding the clinical exam. Once you earn your license, you are permitted to practice dentistry.
Should you opt to practice in one of the nine specialties of dentistry – public health, endodontics, pediatrics, oral surgery, orthodontia, prosthodontics, periodontics, pathology or radiology – an additional two to four years of residency in the specialty area is required. Some states also require specialists to pass an additional exam.
Dentists generally either have a private practice, or work in a larger practice with other providers. In fact, more than 90 percent of dentists are employed in a dental office of some type. The remaining 9 percent of dentists work for the government, in physician offices, outpatient clinics or are self-employed. Most work during standard business hours on weekdays, although some dentists offer early morning, evening and weekend hours.
The dental industry is becoming highly technical, with more dentists using computer technology to improve the quality of care. Digital imagining, laser technology and computer modeling are changing the way dentists work. New materials and changing patient expectations are also influencing the dental industry, as is increased access to health care.
Years of Experience and Dentist Salary
The median annual wage for a dentist, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $158,120. This means half of dentists earn less, and half earn more. At the low end of the scale, fewer than 10 percent of dentists earned less than $70,000 per year.
Which doctor is paid the most? At the top end, the highest 10 percent (which includes oral surgeons) earned $208,000. This means that a dentist earns a median monthly salary of about $13,100. Factors such as the number of hours worked, complexity of the patient mix, specialty and location can influence the dentist median pay/annual salary.
According to PayScale, there is a positive correlation between the number of years in practice and earnings. According to its projections, the trend looks like this:
- 0-5 years: $120,000
- 5-10 years: $137,000
- 10-20 years: $149,000
- 20+ years: $155,000.
Job Growth Trend
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 19 percent growth for dentists between now and 2026, which is much faster than average for all occupations. The high growth rate is attributed in large part to the aging population and increased demand for dental care. A focus on the relationship between good oral health and good overall health is also a factor, as is growing interest in cosmetic dentistry.