What you need to know
Dentists diagnose and treat problems with patients’ teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth. They provide advice and instruction on taking care of the teeth and gums and on diet choices that affect oral health.
Some dentists own their own businesses and work alone or with a small staff. Other dentists have partners in their practice, and some work for more established dentists as associate dentists.
Some of the things dentists might do:
- Remove decay from teeth and fill cavities
- Repair cracked or fractured teeth and remove teeth
- Place sealants or whitening agents on teeth
- Administer anesthetics to keep patients from feeling pain during procedures
- Prescribe antibiotics or other medications
- Examine x rays of teeth, gums, the jaw, and nearby areas in order to diagnose problems
- Make models and measurements for dental appliances, such as dentures, to fit patients
- Teach patients about diets, flossing, the use of fluoride, and other aspects of dental care
- Communication skills. Dentists must communicate effectively with patients, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and receptionists.
- Detail oriented. Dentists must pay attention to the shape and color of teeth and to the space between them. For example, they may need to closely match a false tooth with a patient’s other teeth.
- Dexterity. Dentists must be good at working with their hands. They must work carefully with tools in a small space and ensure the safety of their patients.
- Leadership skills. Most dentists manage and lead staff in their own dental practices.
- Organizational skills. Keeping accurate records of patient care is critical in both medical and business settings.
- Patience. Dentists may work for long periods with patients who need special attention. Children and patients with a fear of dental work may require a lot of patience.
- Physical stamina. Dentists typically bend over patients for long periods.
- Problem-solving skills. Dentists must evaluate patients’ symptoms and choose the appropriate treatments.
The average pay for dentists in the United States ranges from $70,000 to more than $208,000.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Overall employment of dentists is projected to grow 19 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.
The demand for dental services will increase as the population ages and as research continues to link oral health to overall health.
All dental schools require applicants to have completed certain science courses, such as biology and chemistry, before entering dental school. Students typically need at least a bachelor’s degree to enter most dental programs, although no specific major is required. However, majoring in a science, such as biology, might increase one’s chances of being accepted. Requirements vary by school.
Applicants to dental schools usually take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). Dental schools use these tests along with other factors, such as grade point average, interviews, and recommendations, to admit students into their programs.