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Retirement 5% $379.17
We all know what it feels like to be in the dentist’s chair, but
what is it like to be the person looking into all those mouths?
What do dentists actually do when they’re poking around in
They perform regular check-ups, diagnose and treat dental
problems, and maintain and improve the appearance of
Regular check-ups involve a thorough examination
and cleaning of the patient’s teeth and gums.
These check-ups are important because they allow the
dentist to detect tooth decay and gum disease and
deal with them before they become a problem.
Regular cleanings can also stop the build-up of
plaque—a substance that forms on teeth and
provides a home for bacteria.
Using x-rays and physical examinations, dentists
diagnose dental problems such as cavities, broken or
diseased teeth, and gum disease.
Once these problems are detected, the dentist treats
This often involves delicate work, because the teeth
and gums are very sensitive and damage to them can
be very painful.
Dentists fill in cavities, rebuild broken teeth, replace
missing teeth with dentures or implants, and carry
out basic dental operations, such as the removal of
By educating patients about the importance of
brushing, flossing and eating properly, dentists also
help to prevent tooth and gum decay.
The purpose of dentistry is not just to make sure that the teeth are
healthy—appearances are very important as well.
Much of dentists’ work involves improving the shape, color, and
alignment of patients’ teeth for cosmetic reasons.
For example, a dentist may bleach the teeth. Another cosmetic
technique involves applying a veneer to the front of the teeth,
giving them a more appealing color and texture.
By doing this cosmetic work, a dentist can help improve the self-
confidence and dental hygiene of a patient.
Most dentists work for themselves in private practice.
In addition to taking care of patients, they are also
responsible for supervising their staff—hygienists,
dental assistants, and secretaries—and for all the
other duties associated with running their own
Most dentists work 8 or 9 hours a day, 5 days a week.
Many also work evenings and Saturdays to accommodate
Less experienced dentists, who are trying to build up their
practices, may have to work harder than more experienced
dentists with established practices.
Most dentists take about 10 to 20 vacation days a year.
The work is not physically demanding, but dentists
spend a lot of time on their feet, bending over
Performing delicate procedures can be mentally
exhausting, as a great deal of concentration is
Dentists tend to spend more time talking to their
patients on a general social level than other doctors.
For example, while doing an examination or filling a
cavity, a dentist may talk to a patient about a golf
game or a vacation.
This may help to make the patient less nervous and
less focused on what the dentist is actually doing.
Earnings for dentists vary depending on the location
of the practice, the experience of the dentist, and
whether or not the dentist is self-employed.
for self-employed dentists in specialist practice is about
$290,000 a Most dentists are self-employed. That is, they
are either full or part owners of their own practices.
According to the American Dental Association, the average
income for dentists who own their own practices is
approximately $174,000 a year.
However, specialists earn more.
The average income year.
Dentists who work for others, whether in a general or
a specialist practice, tend to make less than self-
The average income for salaried dentists is
approximately $110,000 a year.
Salaried dentists usually receive benefits, such as
health insurance, paid sick days, and retirement
Self-employed dentists must provide their own
To become a dentist, you need to attend dental school.
Applicants to dental school must first complete either a
bachelor’s degree or at least 2 years of college level pre-dental
Most applicants have a bachelor’s degree.
Exact requirements vary by school, but dental schools
generally require applicants to have taken courses in specific
areas such as the life sciences and the humanities.
Anatomy, biology, and zoology are examples of life sciences
Humanities courses include English, history, and social
sciences courses such as economics and sociology.
Be sure to check with the dental school you are
interested in to find out their exact requirements.
In addition to completing undergraduate courses,
applicants to dental school must pass the Dental
Admission Test (DAT).
To finally become a dentist, you must graduate from
an accredited dental school.
Depending on the school you attend, you may
graduate with either a Doctor of Dental Surgery
Degree (DDS) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine
Dental school takes 4 years to complete.
Before you can practice dentistry you must pass
written and practical state licensing exams.
See the Other Resources section for a link to
information about specific state licensure
With extra training, a dentist can become a specialist
and focus on specific dental problems.
For example, oral surgeons deal with facial
reconstructions and impacted wisdom teeth.
They perform some difficult and complicated
Orthodontists correct and prevent the irregular
development of teeth, and periodontists concentrate
on treating gum disease.
In addition to having good hand-eye coordination,
dentists should enjoy helping people.
They should also be patient and gentle, since dental
patients are sometimes in pain or frightened when
they enter the office.
Working in someone’s mouth on a delicate procedure
can be exhausting work, so dentists must be able to
remain controlled and focused even when tired.
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