Dentists diagnose and treat teeth and gum problems. They instruct patients about brushing, flossing, using fluoride, and diet to prevent dental problems. Dentists remove decay, fill cavities, examine x-rays, straighten teeth, place protective plastic sealants on teeth, and repair fractured teeth. Dentists treat gum disease by performing surgery. They also administer anesthetics and write prescriptions. Dentists also sometimes design dentures.

Dentists use scalpels, brushes, forceps, probes, mouth mirrors, and x-ray machines while at the same time protecting patients from infections.

Dentists running their own business are also responsible for office administrative duties. They also supervise their staff from dental hygienists, assistants, laboratory technicians, and receptionists.

There are nine dental specialists. Orthodontists straighten teeth by using braces or retainers. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons perform mouth and jaw surgery. Pediatric dentists specialize in treating children. Periodontists specialize in the gums and bones around the teeth. Prosthodontists use crowns, bridges, and dentures to replace missing teeth. Endodontists specialize in root canals. Public health dentists specialize in treating and preventing community health problems. Oral pathologists conduct research on oral diseases, and oral and maxillofacial radiologists use imaging technologies to diagnose head and neck problems.

Work Environment
Most dentists run their own practices. Some dentists work in partnerships or dentist associations.

Most dentists work 4-5 day weeks. Some work evenings and weekends to accommodate their patients. The number of hours worked varies greatly among dentists. The majority of dentists spend 35-40 hours working a week. Dentists trying to set up a new practice usually work long hours. Many dentists continue to work part-time after they retire.

Dentists are required to satisfy licensing requirements in every state and the District of Columbia. To satisfy these requirements, candidates must successfully complete dental school and pass various tests, including a written test.

Dental schools require completion of 2 years of pre-dental undergraduate education, and most schools only admit students with bachelor's degrees. Some students are admitted after completing 2-3 years of undergraduate study, but they're required to complete the remainder of their undergraduate education while in dental school. More than 85 percent of students currently in dental school hold bachelor's degrees prior to admission.

Additional details about preparing for dental school can be obtained from these organizations:

  • American Dental Education Association
  • Student Doctor Network
  • Student National Dental Association
  • American Student Dental Association

There are nine specialities within the field of dentistry. To become a specialist, dentists are required to complete additional training and complete a residency (usually 1 to 2 years) in their specialty. For those that want to practice dentistry right out of dental school, general dentistry is their only option.

Some dentists go on to each dentistry or perform dental research. Dentists wanting to teach or perform research are required to complete an addition 3 to 5 years of specialized dental training. A few dentists will teach part time at local dental schools.

Every state in the US requires that dentists be licensed before they can practice. However, licensing requirements may be different depending on the state where you practice. General licensing requirements include having graduated from an accredited dental schools and passing a state exam. Dental specialists are typically required to have a special license for their area of specialization. Again, licensing requirements vary by state.

On average, dentists make about $149,000 a year, once they have an established practice. The lowest 10 percent of dentists make less then $73,000 a year, while the top 10 percent make over $187,000 a year. Earning potential for dentists is influenced by a number of factors including year of experience, location, how many hours they work, and whether or not they specialize.

The following are annual compensation figures for an number of dentist specialities:

  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeons - over $190,000
  • Orthodontists - over $190,000
  • Prosthodontists - $169,000
  • General dentists - $145,000
  • Other specialists - $$155,000

The pay figures above are based on the assumption that a dentist is working at least full time. Most dentists will work full time. Some will even work evenings and weekends.

Job Outlook
Job growth for dentists is expected to increase at an above average rate. Job opportunities for dentists should be excellent since large quantities of dentists are close to retiring.

Job growth for dentists is estimated to increase by 16 percent until 2018, a higher rate compared to average projected growth in other industries. Demand for dental treatments is projected to also increase. Growth will also be spurred by aging populations requiring more dental treatments, nationwide population growth, and increased awareness about the importance of good dental hygiene.

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