How To Become A Dentist
Career Video: Dentist
A dentist provides care for optimal oral hygiene, which includes the health of the teeth, gums, and mouth. Dentists work mostly to prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and other easily treatable and common health issues. Not only do they provide regular cleanings and checkups, but they provide services to help their patients maintain proper oral care, including fillings, root canals, extractions, tooth replacements, and other procedures. They are also able to diagnose and possibly treat many diseases and serious health issues.
Why Become A Dentist
Dentists have an interest in helping people maintain oral health, which is vital for a number of reasons. Recent research indicates that oral health is both indicative and correlative to a person’s overall wellbeing. For example, gum disease (periodontitis) can possibly indicate depression, cancers, diabetes, and other serious illnesses. When the body’s immune system sends an inflammatory response to attack an illness, this chronic inflammation usually affects the gums. In addition, poor gum and dental health can cause self-esteem and diet issues, which can also lead to poor health, including heart disease, diabetes, and depression. People who work in this field help people maintain their overall emotional and physical wellbeing. Oral health is a lifelong necessity, and many dentists find great joy in providing this invaluable service.
People who want to become dentists should have good manual dexterity and physical stamina, as they spend much of their time standing or bending over patients. They should have a strong knowledge of anatomy, anesthesiology, radiology, and pharmacology. They need to have good communication, problem solving skills, and patience.
Dentist Work Environment
Dentists can either work with a small staff as a healthcare group or solo. Typically, they work in a private practice, but many can work for the public sector, or they see a mix of clients with varying types of insurances. For those working in private practices, dentists perform a lot of administrative duties, beyond treating their patients. Some dentists choose to work as teachers or researchers, working for hospitals and universities.
The average work week for a general dentist in a private practice is 35-40 hours, 4-5 days per week. Some dental offices are open late and on weekends to accommodate working patients. Younger dentists often work longer hours as a means of becoming established.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a general dentist, in May of 2012, was $149,310 per year. The American Dental Association (ADA) lists the median pay rate as $186,000, annually. Dentists who choose other specialties may earn an annual salary up to $315,000, according to the ADA.
Dentist Career Outlook
The career outlook for a dentist is good. Between 2012 and 2022, the field of dentistry should grow about 16%, which is faster than the typical occupation.
A doctoral degree and license are required to become a dentist.
Step 1: Complete a bachelor’s degree program. It is recommended to have a bachelor’s degree before enrolling in a dental school, as this is typically a requirement. It may be possible to enroll in a dental program and complete a bachelor’s degree at the dental school about 2-3 years after starting courses. No requirements exist for a pre-dental undergraduate degree, but it is recommended to take courses in biology, physics, chemistry, and other relevant subjects.
During this time, it is a good idea to get involved with a dental mentoring program (the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) provides such programs) or participate in a dental school preparatory program.
Step 2: Pass the Dental Admission Test (DAT). Before being admitted to dental school, a student must take the DAT, which assesses relevant knowledge and academic aptitude. This score, combined with an undergraduate GPA, recommendations, and interviews, is a part of the dental school admissions process.
Step 3: Earn a dental degree. To earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree, a student will usually spend four years in graduate studies. To practice, it is necessary to complete coursework from an accredited program, from the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation. It is important to look up state licensure requirements in the intended state of practice, because some states require coursework from approved degree programs.
Studies during this time include laboratory and classroom work in health and dental science. Courses will most likely include oral pathology, periodontics, dental anesthesia, orthodontics, radiology, and pharmacology. The last two years of a program typically focus on clinical work, diagnosing and treating patients under the supervision of a dental instructor.
Step 4: Obtain a license to practice. All states require that a dentist pass the National Board Dental Examination. This exam covers ethics, dental science, and clinical procedures. States also have their individual tests, which dentists must pass to practice. In addition, some states require first aid and CPR certifications, background checks, and interviews.
Step 5: Practice or pursue a specialty? At this time a licensed dentist can either practice general dentistry or continue on in education/residency (about 2-6 years, depending) to study in a specialty. Through the study of these specialties, a practitioner can become an orthodontist, an oral or maxillofacial surgeon, a pedodontist, a prosthodontist, a periodontist, or an endodontist. Many programs exist that allow a dentist to practice while obtaining his or her post-DDS or -DDM specialty license.