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Career Information

Dentists: Career, Salary and Education Information

Career Profile: What do Dentists Do?
Anyone who's ever had a toothache knows the essential role dentists fill in the medical community. Dentists treat problems with teeth and gums, provide preventative care and advice, straighten teeth, and perform surgery. They must be familiar with a wide variety of advanced equipment, including x-rays and other imaging technologies.

Most dentists are solo practitioners, working with a team of aides and assistants in their own office. The majority of dentists work in general practice, caring for the teeth and gums of children and adults of all ages. Dentists who are not in general dentistry practice in one of nine specialty areas, including orthodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, oral pathology, or public health.

A Day in the Life of a Dentist
Dentists work four or five days a week, and may work evenings or weekends to attend to the needs of their patients. Those attempting to establish a new practice can work more than 40 hours a week, while established dentists will traditionally work 35 to 40 hours. More experienced dentists often work fewer hours, and many continue to work in a part-time capacity beyond the usual retirement age.

Larger dentist offices can employ hygienists, assistants, dental laboratory technicians, and multiple receptionists. Dentists who operate such offices benefit from management skills and the ability to operate in both a clinical and a business capacity.

Dentistry Training and Education
Dentists typically complete eight years of education beyond high school. They earn their certification with courses in anatomy, clinical sciences, microbiology, and physiology. In the last two years of training, students treat patients in supervised clinical settings. After graduation, a new dentist may work for a few years with an established dentist. In most states, the actual licensing exam includes written and practical examinations.

Advancement generally consists of building a client base, but those who wish to teach or conduct research can spend an additional 2 to 5 years in advance dental training and specialty education programs.

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Dentistry Employment & Outlook
A vast majority of dentists work as dental practitioners--136,000 of the 161,000 dentists employed nationwide. The remainder work as orthodontists, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, prosthodontists, or in other specialties. About a third of all dentists are self-employed and almost all work in private practice.

Employment is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations, with 15,000 new jobs expected by 2016. The demand for dentists tends to follow closely with economic trends. During slow times in the economy, business for dentists typically slows, and new dentists may have trouble finding employment.

Typical Dentist Salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that dentists in general practice saw mean annual earnings of $147,010 in 2007. That same year, oral and maxillofacial surgeons earned $178,440, orthodontists earned $185,340, and prosthodontists earned $169,360.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dentists