Dentists diagnose and treat problems with patients’ teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth.
What they do
They provide advice and instruction on taking care of the teeth and gums and on diet choices that affect oral health.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 major 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.
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.
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.
The median annual wage for dentists was $159,200 in May 2019. 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 $79,670, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.
Overall employment of dentists is projected to grow 3 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Demand for dental services will increase as the population ages. Many members of the aging baby-boom generation will need dental work. Because those in each generation are more likely to keep their teeth than those in past generations, more dental care will be needed in the years to come. In addition, 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.
Similar Job Titles
Associate Dentist, Dental Surgery Doctor (DDS), Dentist, Dentist/Owner, Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD), Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), Family Dentist, General Dentist, General Dentist/Owner, Pediatric Dentist, Dentofacial Orthopedics Dentist
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, Orthodontist, Prosthodontist, Anesthesiologist, Nurse Anesthetist
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- Academy of General Dentistry
- Academy of Laser Dentistry
- American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry
- American Academy of Implant Dentistry
- American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
- American College of Dentists
- International College of Dentists
- National Dental Association
- Pierre Fauchard Academy
Magazines and Publications
- Dentistry Today
- Dear Doctor, Dental Magazine
- Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
- Dental News
- Dentaltown Magazine
Open wide! Dentists diagnose and treat problems that occur in teeth and the tissues of the mouth. Dentists use a variety of tools and equipment to fill cavities… repair broken teeth… and remove diseased teeth. To keep teeth healthy and strong, dentists remove plaque, and conduct check-ups after a hygienist cleans a patient’s teeth. They may also make models for dentures. Dentists advise patients on dental care, and encourage them to keep up with flossing and brushing. Dentists suit up in surgical masks, gloves, and safety glasses to protect themselves from infectious diseases. When they’re not working with patients, they supervise dental hygienists, assistants, and lab technicians, and manage business aspects of their practice. Many dentists set up their own private practices, or work in already-established practices. Others work in hospitals, clinics, and research facilities. Weekend and evening hours may be necessary to accommodate patients’ schedules. Physical stamina, good dexterity, and patience, are important qualities for dentists. Students considering a career in dentistry need to complete biology and chemistry courses in college, and take the Dental Admission Test. They must earn a doctoral degree from dental school, then obtain a dentistry license. It’s a long road to becoming a dentist, but helping people maintain oral health can make dentistry a very rewarding profession.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org