What Dentists Do
Dentists help people with a wide array of issues concerning oral health. While people commonly think of dental visits as they relate to preventive needs, such as cleanings, exams, and oral health education, as well as restorative work like crowns, root canals, and fillings, they also handle a myriad of oral conditions, ranging from diagnosing oral cancers and lesions, replacing missing teeth, correcting misaligned teeth and jaws, and helping patients recover from oral trauma or defects.
Most dentists work as general dentists, and treat a wide array of oral conditions, but they may also choose to specialize in a certain area, such as pediatric dentistry (pedodontics), oral surgery, orthodontics, root canals (endodontics), the treatment of gum disease and care of soft tissues (periodontics), missing tooth replacements (prosthodontics), cosmetic dentistry, or oral pathology. Dentists may work in an independent solo practice, in a clinic setting with other dentists, in hospitals, or in non-clinical settings, such as dental schools, research venues, for insurance companies, or serve on dental boards.
Who would enjoy a career in Dentistry?
Dentists must be committed to lifelong learning, as the education is intensive and continued study is required to stay licensed. Those who are interested in how the body works, healing, and improving the lives of others will likely feel fulfilled in dentistry. Having a background in business and marketing is also helpful for those who run their own practices, and coursework surrounding human behavior or psychology is beneficial too. The profession can be good for those who hope to achieve work/ life balance, as dentists often choose their own schedules.
Who mightn't like the career?
Dentistry can be a lonely profession for those who run solo practices because they often have few colleagues aside from dental assistants and administration staff to converse with or discuss cases with, so it’s not a good career path for those who don’t want to or are unable to shoulder the burden of constant leadership.
Moreover, it can be difficult to take time away for emergencies and illness because practices cannot run without the dentist present and most dentists do not have backup. The barrier to entry is also difficult, as clinical equipment is costly, and revenue is not only dependent on excellent financial management, but also on the economy, as patients tend to put off their non-essential dental care in times of economic struggle.
Schooling is intensive and a doctorate degree is required. Most dental-career hopefuls focus on the sciences during undergraduate studies, particularly biology, but a variety of degrees are accepted by dental schools, provided the individual has achieved high marks.
Students usually take their Dental Aptitude Test or Dental Admissions Test and begin applying for dental schools about a year before receiving their bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Dental school generally lasts another four years, and this includes clinic time treating real patients under the supervision of a teacher.
Following dental school, dentists are then able to take their board tests. Those who wish to practice general dentistry may apply for jobs after obtaining licensure, while specialists go on to study for two more years and generally complete a residency. For a detailed year-by-year explanation of the educational path of a dentist, see “How Dental School Works.” It’s also worth noting that dentists who wish to do NHS work in the UK are required to take one year of dental foundation training.
General dentists are not usually required to complete an internship or residency, while specialists are. However, both may find shadowing and working under the supervision of an experienced dentist beneficial during the early days. The majority of dentists do just this or take positions in a clinic before going on to opening their own practices or buying the practices of retiring dentists. Naturally, the more experience a dentist has before applying for positions, the better his or her chances are of getting into a spot, so volunteering and interning play an integral role.
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Moving into Dentistry from another career
Moving into a career in dentistry can be difficult due to the amount of schooling involved. However, a forum discussion on StudentDoctor.net entitled “Dental School as a second career?” includes first-hand accounts of people who transitioned into the career from unrelated fields such as technical writing, to IT, marketing, and more. The article “Career Changers Advice” also gives practical tips for those looking to make the switch.
Role: Some, but not all, dentists will begin their careers working as a dental associate. In these cases, they do not run the practices they work in. Instead, they work under the direction of a senior dentist, while providing common dental treatments, preventative dental care, and educating patients.
Role: General dentists typically run their own practices. They’re responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations and managing staff, though they may delegate some duties, such as budgeting, scheduling, ordering, and human resource-type activities. However, their core focus is on providing patient care, which includes performing oral exams, diagnosing issues, providing treatment, and educating patients.
Role: If a dentist has undergone the additional schooling and licensure, he or she can practice a specialty. Although the specialist’s duties are much the same as the general dentist’s, he or she will focus on a single area of dentistry, such as pedodontics, orthodontics, endodontics, oral surgery, oral pathology, cosmetic dentistry, prosthodontics, or periodontics.
Although there are many opportunities for dentists to travel, such as through health outreach organizations, most do not travel for work. Moreover, due to the licensing requirements, most tend to practice in one location their entire lives.
However, due to the compensation many dentists receive, recreational travel across the globe is common.
Associate Dentist: Data from PayScale indicates that base salaries average USD$117,446 in the United States, CAD$130,000 in Canada, and AU$52,000 in Australia. (UK salary info not available)
General Dentist: Data from PayScale indicates that base salaries average USD$134,000 in the United States, ₤60,000 in the United Kingdom, CAD$119,700 in Canada, and AU$83,947 in Australia.
Dental Specialist: Each dental specialty has a different anticipated income. However, in the US, many specialties start out at a little over USD$150,000 and exceed $200,000, while dentists employed by the NHS in the UK typically earn £38,095 to £81,480, and private dentists may earn in excess of £140,000. Globally, oral surgeons rank among the best paying jobs overall, and offer arguably the highest salaries in dentistry. Oral surgeons can expect base salaries that average USD$214,000 in the United States, ₤68,250 in the United Kingdom, and CAD$127,000 in Canada, per PayScale, while Health Assistance Partnership places oral surgeon salaries above physician’s salaries at AU$164,000 in Australia.
Some dentists report bonuses and profit sharing that exceed USD$100,000 annually. Dentists who own their own practice can oftentimes take home considerably more than the median salary.
Why Dentists move on
Rationale behind leaving a career in dentistry has been researched, with the top three concerns being financial, stress, and external regulation. Dentists take many career paths after leaving practice, though most commonly enter into business, teaching, medicine, and investing.