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Dentist

Job Outlook: 7% (Faster than average)

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What Dentists Do About this section

Dentists
Dentists remove tooth decay, fill cavities, and repair fractured teeth.

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.

Duties

Dentists typically do the following:

  • Remove decay from teeth and fill cavities
  • Repair or remove damaged 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
  • Teach patients about diets, flossing, the use of fluoride, and other aspects of dental care

Dentists use a variety of equipment, including x-ray machines, drills, mouth mirrors, probes, forceps, brushes, and scalpels. They also use lasers, digital scanners, and other technologies.

In addition, dentists in private practice oversee a variety of administrative tasks, including bookkeeping and buying equipment and supplies. They employ and supervise dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental laboratory technicians, and receptionists.

Most dentists are general practitioners and handle a variety of dental needs. Other dentists practice in a specialty area, such as one of the following:

Dental anesthesiologists administer drugs (anesthetics) to reduce or eliminate pain during a dental procedure, monitor sedated patients to keep them safe, and help patients manage pain afterward.

Dental public health specialists promote good dental health and the prevention of dental diseases in specific communities.

Endodontists perform root canal therapy, removing the nerves and blood supply from injured or infected teeth.

Oral and maxillofacial radiologists diagnose diseases in the head and neck through the use of imaging technologies.

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons operate on the mouth, jaws, teeth, gums, neck, and head, performing procedures such as surgically repairing a cleft lip and palate or removing impacted teeth.

Oral pathologists diagnose conditions in the mouth, such as bumps or ulcers, and oral diseases, such as cancer.

Orthodontists straighten teeth by applying pressure to the teeth with braces or other appliances.

Pediatric dentists focus on dentistry for children and special-needs patients.

Periodontists treat the gums and bones supporting the teeth.

Dentists also may do research. Or, they may teach part time, including supervising students in dental school clinics. For more information, see the profiles on medical scientists and postsecondary teachers.

Work Environment About this section

Dentists
Dentists provide instruction on diet, brushing, flossing, the use of fluorides, and other areas of dental care.

Dentists held about 139,200 jobs in 2020. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up dentists was distributed as follows:

Dentists, general 120,300
Dentists, all other specialists 6,800
Orthodontists 6,400
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons 5,200
Prosthodontists 700

The largest employers of dentists were as follows:

Offices of dentists 74%
Self-employed workers 16
Government 3
Offices of physicians 3
Outpatient care centers 2

Some dentists have their own business and work alone or with a small staff. Other dentists have partners in their practice. Still others work as associate dentists for established dental practices.

Dentists wear masks, gloves, and safety glasses to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases.

Work Schedules

Dentists’ work schedules vary. Some work evenings and weekends to meet their patients’ needs. Many dentists work less than 40 hours a week, although some work considerably more.

How to Become a Dentist About this section

Dentists
Dentists must be licensed in all states; requirements vary by state.

Dentists must be licensed in the state in which they work. Licensure requirements vary by state, although candidates usually must have a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry/Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree from an accredited dental program and pass written and clinical exams. Dentists who practice in a specialty area must complete postdoctoral training.

Education

Dentists typically need a DDS or DMD degree from a dental program that has been accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). Most programs require that applicants have at least a bachelor’s degree and have completed certain science courses, such as biology or chemistry. Although no specific undergraduate major is required, programs may prefer applicants who have a bachelor's degree in a science, such as biology.

Applicants to dental schools usually take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). Dental schools use this test along with other factors, such as grade point average, interviews, and recommendations, to admit students into their programs.

Dental school programs typically include coursework in subjects such as local anesthesia, anatomy, periodontics (the study of oral disease and health), and radiology. All programs at dental schools include clinical experience in which students work directly with patients under the supervision of a licensed dentist.

As early as high school, students interested in becoming dentists can take courses in subjects such as biology, chemistry, and math.

Training

All dental specialties require dentists to complete additional training before practicing that specialty. This training is usually a 2- to 4-year residency in a CODA-accredited program related to the specialty, which often culminates in a postdoctoral certificate or master’s degree. Oral and maxillofacial surgery programs typically take 4 to 6 years and may result in candidates earning a joint Medical Doctor (M.D.) degree.

General dentists do not need additional training after dental school.

Dentists who want to teach or do research full time may need advanced dental training, such as in a postdoctoral program in general dentistry.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Dentists must be licensed in the state in which they work. All states require dentists to be licensed; requirements vary by state. Most states require a dentist to have a DDS or DMD degree from an accredited dental program, pass the written National Board Dental Examinations, and pass a state or regional clinical examination.

In addition, a dentist who wants to practice in a dental specialty must have a license in that specialty. Licensure requires the completion of a residency after dental school and, in some cases, the completion of a special state exam.

Important Qualities

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 with their hands. They must work carefully with tools in small spaces to ensure the safety of their patients.

Leadership skills. Dentists, especially those with their own practices, may need to manage staff or mentor other dentists.

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, including children and those with a fear of dental work.

Problem-solving skills. Dentists must evaluate patients’ symptoms and choose the appropriate treatment.

Pay About this section

Dentists

Median annual wages, May 2021

Dentists

$163,220

Healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners

$81,270

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for dentists was $163,220 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $63,880, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

Median annual wages for dentists in May 2021 were as follows:

Orthodontists $208,000 or more
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons 208,000 or more
Dentists, all other specialists 175,160
Dentists, general 160,370
Prosthodontists 100,950

In May 2021, the median annual wages for dentists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $182,330
Offices of dentists 163,650
Outpatient care centers 162,120
Offices of physicians 159,730

Wages vary with the dentist’s location, number of hours worked, specialty, and number of years in practice.

Dentists’ work schedules vary. Some work evenings and weekends to meet their patients’ needs. Many dentists work less than 40 hours a week, although some may work considerably more.

Job Outlook About this section

Dentists

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners

12%

Total, all occupations

8%

Dentists

8%

 

Overall employment of dentists is projected to grow 8 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 5,000 openings for dentists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Much of the projected employment growth in this occupation is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession that began in 2020.

Demand for dentists is expected to increase as larger numbers of older people require dental services. Because each generation is more likely to keep their teeth than the previous generation, more dental care will be needed in the years to come. Furthermore, there will be increased demand for complicated dental work, including dental implants and bridges. The risk of oral cancer increases significantly with age, and complications can require both cosmetic and functional dental reconstruction.

Demand for dentists’ services will increase as studies continue to link oral health to overall health. In addition to providing treatments, these workers will be needed to provide care and instruction aimed at promoting good oral hygiene.

Employment projections data for dentists, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Dentists

29-1020 139,200 150,300 8 11,100 Get data

Dentists, general

29-1021 120,300 130,000 8 9,800 Get data

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons

29-1022 5,200 5,600 8 400 Get data

Orthodontists

29-1023 6,400 6,900 8 500 Get data

Prosthodontists

29-1024 700 700 8 100 Get data

Dentists, all other specialists

29-1029 6,800 7,100 5 300 Get data

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