Dentists

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Dentists diagnose and treat problems with patients’ teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth.

Work Environment: 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.

How to Become One: Dentists must be licensed in the state in which they work. Licensure requirements vary by state, although candidates usually must graduate from an accredited dental program and pass written and clinical exams.

Salary: The median annual wage for dentists is $163,220.

Job Outlook: Overall employment of dentists is projected to grow 8 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of dentists with similar occupations.

Following is everything you need to know about a career as a dentist with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:

Top 2 Dentist Jobs

  • Experienced Dentist Job at T & S Medical and Dental Hospital - T & S Medical and Dental Hospital - Lagos

    T & S Hospital is recruiting suitably qualified candidates to fill the position below: Job Position: Dentist Job Location: Lagos Requirements Interested…

  • Dentist - Lagos

    Perform surgical and non-surgical procedures. Marketing of services to institutions and firms. Registration with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria.

See all Dentist jobs

What Dentists Do[About this section] [To Top]

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 of Dentists

Dentists typically do the following:

  • 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

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 computer 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 1 of 9 specialty areas:

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

Endodontists perform root-canal therapy, by which they remove 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.

Prosthodontists replace missing teeth with permanent fixtures, such as crowns and bridges, or with removable fixtures, such as dentures.

Some dentists teach or do research. For more information, see the profiles on medical scientists and postsecondary teachers.

Work Environment for Dentists[About this section] [To Top]

Dentists hold about 139,200 jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up dentists is 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 are as follows:

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

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.

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

Dentist 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] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Dentists near you!

Dentists must be licensed in the state(s) in which they work. Licensure requirements vary by state, although candidates usually must graduate from an accredited dental school and pass written and practical exams. Dentists who practice in a specialty area must complete postdoctoral training.

Education for Dentists

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.

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. The Commission on Dental Accreditation, part of the American Dental Association, has accredited more than 60 dental school programs.

High school students who want to become dentists should take courses in chemistry, physics, biology, anatomy, and math.

Dentist Training

All nine dental specialties require dentists to complete additional training before practicing that specialty. This training is usually a 2- to 4-year residency in a program related to the specialty. General dentists do not need additional training after dental school.

Dentists who want to teach or do research full time usually spend an additional 2 to 5 years in advanced dental training. Many practicing dentists also teach part time, including supervising students in dental school clinics.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Dentists

Dentists must be licensed in the state(s) in which they work. All states require dentists to be licensed; requirements vary by state. Most states require a dentist to have a degree from an accredited dental school and to pass the written and practical National Board Dental Examinations.

In addition, a dentist who wants to practice in one of the nine specialties 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 for Dentists

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.

Dentist Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for dentists is $163,220. 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 are 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

The median annual wages for dentists in the top industries in which they work are 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 work considerably more.

Job Outlook for Dentists[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of dentists is projected to grow 8 percent over the next ten years, 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 of Dentists

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 Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30
Percent Numeric
Dentists 139,200 150,300 8 11,100
  Dentists, general 120,300 130,000 8 9,800
  Oral and maxillofacial surgeons 5,200 5,600 8 400
  Orthodontists 6,400 6,900 8 500
  Prosthodontists 700 700 8 100
  Dentists, all other specialists 6,800 7,100 5 300


A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.


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