Written by: Holly Douglas, DDS
Date: January 24, 2022
Interested in a career as a dentist? Great choice!
The road to becoming a dentist is a long one, with a great deal of competitive training and expensive education. However, if you make it through dental school, being a dentist is a very enjoyable career: dentists enjoy high salaries, great work-life balance, and a flexible, rewarding job environment.
If you’re curious about the life of a career dentist, read this guide to find out how to get a job as a dentist: salary, job outlooks, where to apply, and more.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dentists made a median income of $151,850. Top earners can make as much as $208,000. U.S. News rates dentists as the #1 Best Healthcare Job, and #2 in 100 Best Jobs. Salary.com notes that the median salary has risen in 2020, so you can expect your salary as a dentist to rise over time and with changing financial times.
Dentists perform a variety of tasks every day. In addition, some dentists choose to specialize in specific areas of care, such as pediatrics, orthodontics, endodontics, periodontics, and oral surgery. These specialists perform a more limited set of treatments and procedures.
General dentists are responsible for many different treatment, procedures, and office duties, according to the American Dental Association (ADA):
- Examining patients’ teeth and overall oral health
- Diagnosing oral diseases
- Creating and executing treatment plans to address a wide range of
- Monitoring the growth and development of the teeth in young patients
- Overseeing the safe administration of anesthetics
- Performing surgical procedures on the teeth, bone and soft tissue of
the oral cavity
- Examining x-rays
- Providing direction for dental hygienists, dental assistants, and
- Communicate with other medical professionals about patient cases
- Stay up-to-date with continuing education courses and dentist
- Ensure compliance with all federal and state health & safety
Many dentists choose to start their own practice, making them both medical practitioners and small business owners. These responsibilities include:
- Managing finances
- Hiring, supervising, and disciplining/firing employees
- Generating new business through marketing and referrals
- Managing the office
- Handling legal issues
- Ensuring compliance with all federal and state workplace regulations
- Monitoring inventory and keeping equipment and technology up-to-date
Education, Licensing & Experience
Becoming a dentist is a long road, involving a great deal of training. To become a licensed dentist, you’ll need to complete undergraduate education and then apply to an accredited dental school, which requires taking the Dental Assessment Test (DAT); more competitive dental programs require a higher score.
Dental school is generally four years, each of which requires intensive coursework and clinical training. Dentists who choose to specialize or get more training go on to a residency, which is 2-5 years of supplemental practical training in the chosen area of specialization.
Once you become a dentist, you’ll have to become licensed in order to practice dentistry or a dental specialty in the U.S. To become licensed, you’ll need to take the two-part National Board Dental Examination. The exam is administered by the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations, and aspiring dentists generally take it during dental school, so that they are licensed upon graduation.
In addition to the national license, all dentists are subject to state-specific licensing requirements. You’ll need to become licensed in the state where you want to practice in order to secure a dentist job in that state. Use this guide from the ADA to find the licensing requirements for dentists in your state.
Once you’ve become a licensed dentist, you’re ready to apply for jobs! Clinical internships and training are generally sufficient experience to apply for jobs, although certain offices may only want to hire dentists who have already been practicing for several years.
Larger practices may be more inclined to hire new graduates since there will be other more experienced dentists on hand to answer questions and serve as mentors to new dentists.
Top Dentist Skills
According to the American Dental Education Association, which provides resources to aspiring dentists and dental specialists, there are several personality traits that make for an effective dentist:
- Detail-oriented and organized: there are many
detailed, miniscule parts of the mouth and teeth that have huge
consequences for patients’ overall health. In addition, detailed
note-taking and record-keeping is critically important to track
patient progress and communicate with other dental professionals, both
in the office and between offices.
- A natural leader: Dentists are a part of a
dental team, and each part of the team is important, from dental
hygienists and assistants to office managers and other administrative
staff. Dentists often provide leadership and direction to the rest of
the team, so dentists must be comfortable and confident in an
authority position, while also supporting and encouraging team
- Excellent communicator: Much of dental care
involves helping patients understand their oral health diagnoses, and
educating them on proper oral health. Dentists need to be able to
connect with their patients and effectively communicate the diagnosis,
treatment plan, and what the patient needs to do at home or after care
to ensure proper results. In addition, dentists need to communicate
well with the rest of their team, to keep patient care efficient and
effective, and the office running smoothly.
- Passionate about providing expert care: Every
patient knows whether their dentist is truly invested in the job, and
their personal case. Good dentists make every patient feel valued and
- Knowledgeable and curious about the changes in dental care: Continuing education is an important part of staying licensed
and up-to-date on the latest innovations in dentistry and dental arts.
Quality dentists usually subscribe to professional magazines, attend
conferences, and belong to their regional dental association chapter,
to stay on top of cutting-edge dental care and deliver the best
results to their patients.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has sunny projections for the future of dentistry: the data analyst organization projects 7.6% employment growth for dentists between 2018 and 2028, which Is above average. They note that 10,400 new dentist jobs are likely to be created in that time.
A large appeal of a career in dentistry is that it’s nearly guaranteed to never go out of favor: proper oral health is a critical aspect of human health, and there will always be demand for well-trained, experienced dentists all across the country.
For that reason, you can feel confident that after investing in a dental degree, you’ll have excellent job prospects awaiting you once you’re licensed.
Schedule & Work Environment
Most dentists work full-time; some, including semi-retired dentists, may move down to part-time. The schedule depends on the hours of the specific dental office: some dental practices are open 7 days a week, requiring dentists to work 5 of those days, and usually take rotation shifts with other dentists working on the weekends.
Other offices may only be open Monday through Friday, or a smaller portion of the week. Dentists who open their own practice have a great deal of flexibility in setting their schedule, as patients can be scheduled whenever is convenient for the dentist. Flexibility is one of the most often cited reasons that dentists love their jobs.
If you’re looking for a dentist job, there are several resources that can help you find a great position in your area.
Some tips for finding a dentist job:
- Use your dental program’s job and employment resources. Dental schools gain in credibility when they have a high rate
of employment amongst graduates. For that reason, nearly all dental
schools provide hiring assistance to their recent alumni. This might
include a job board, email list serve, hiring expos, or dedicated
career counselors. Ask your school’s administrators about what hiring
resource they offer for new grads.
- The job posting database on the American Dental Association’s
webpage. The ADA career center has open dental positions across the state,
for dentists and other dental positions. You can search near your home
zip code to find a position close to you, or look for jobs in places
you’re interested in moving to.
- Online job sites like ZipRecruiter, Indeed, CareerBuilder, and
more. These job sites have replaced classified ads in the newspaper
as the go-to hiring method for all kinds of employers, including
dental offices. You can filter for job preferences, like minimum
salary and part-time or full-time work.
- Start your own practice. Many dentists start
their own practice, or go into practice with a few other dentists.
While being a small business owner is a demanding and ambitious
investment, it can pay off greatly in increased salary and
flexibility. Be sure to do extensive research and have financial and
legal assistance when opening a practice.
Interested in a general dentist career? Learn more about dentist careers at Diamond Braces.