Dentists

What Dentists Do

Dentists diagnose and treat problems with patients’ teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjSg0OIigI0

Work Environment

Some dentists have their own business and work alone or with a small staff. Other dentists have partners in their practice. Still others work as associate dentists for established dental practices.

How to Become a Dentist

Dentists must be licensed in the state in which they work. Licensure requirements vary by state, although candidates usually must graduate from an accredited dental program and pass written and clinical exams.

Pay

The median annual wage for dentists was $159,200 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of dentists is projected to grow 3 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The demand for dental services will increase as the population ages and as research continues to link oral health to overall health.

Dentists diagnose and treat problems with patients’ teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth. They provide advice and instruction on taking care of the teeth and gums and on diet choices that affect oral health.

Duties

Dentists typically do the following:

  • Remove decay from teeth and fill cavities
  • Repair or remove damaged teeth
  • Place sealants or whitening agents on teeth
  • Administer anesthetics to keep patients from feeling pain during procedures
  • Prescribe antibiotics or other medications
  • Examine x rays of teeth, gums, the jaw, and nearby areas in order to diagnose problems
  • Make models and measurements for dental appliances, such as dentures
  • Teach patients about diets, flossing, the use of fluoride, and other aspects of dental care

Dentists use a variety of equipment, including x-ray machines, drills, mouth mirrors, probes, forceps, brushes, and scalpels. They also use lasers, digital scanners, and other technologies.

In addition, dentists in private practice oversee a variety of administrative tasks, including bookkeeping and buying equipment and supplies. They employ and supervise dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental laboratory technicians, and receptionists.

Most dentists are general practitioners and handle a variety of dental needs. Other dentists practice in a specialty area, such as one of the following:

Dental anesthesiologists administer drugs (anesthetics) to reduce or eliminate pain during a dental procedure, monitor sedated patients to keep them safe, and help patients manage pain afterward.

Dental public health specialists promote good dental health and the prevention of dental diseases in specific communities.

Endodontists perform root canal therapy, removing the nerves and blood supply from injured or infected teeth.

Oral and maxillofacial radiologists diagnose diseases in the head and neck through the use of imaging technologies.

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons operate on the mouth, jaws, teeth, gums, neck, and head, performing procedures such as surgically repairing a cleft lip and palate or removing impacted teeth.

Oral pathologists diagnose conditions in the mouth, such as bumps or ulcers, and oral diseases, such as cancer.

Orthodontists straighten teeth by applying pressure to the teeth with braces or other appliances.

Pediatric dentists focus on dentistry for children and special-needs patients.

Periodontists treat the gums and bones supporting the teeth.

Dentists also may do research. Or, they may teach part time, including supervising students in dental school clinics. For more information, see the profiles on medical scientists and postsecondary teachers.

Dentists held about 151,600 jobs in 2019. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up dentists was distributed as follows:

Dentists, general 132,100
Orthodontists 7,200
Dentists, all other specialists 6,200
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons 5,600
Prosthodontists 600

The largest employers of dentists were as follows:

Offices of dentists 74%
Self-employed workers 15
Government 3
Offices of physicians 2
Outpatient care centers 2

Some dentists have their own business and work alone or with a small staff. Other dentists have partners in their practice. Still others work as associate dentists for established dental practices.

Dentists wear masks, gloves, and safety glasses to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases.

Work Schedules

Dentists’ work schedules vary. Some work evenings and weekends to meet their patients’ needs. Many dentists work less than 40 hours a week, although some work considerably more.

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of dentists.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2019

Chiropractors

Chiropractors treat patients with health problems of the neuromusculoskeletal system, which includes nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

Doctoral or professional degree $70,340

Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians construct, fit, or repair medical appliances and devices.

High school diploma or equivalent $37,370

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants provide patient care, take x rays, keep records, and schedule appointments.

Postsecondary nondegree award $40,080

Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists examine patients for signs of oral diseases, such as gingivitis, and provide preventive care, including oral hygiene.

Associate’s degree $76,220

Medical scientists

Medical Scientists

Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health.

Doctoral or professional degree $88,790

Optometrists

Optometrists

Optometrists diagnose and treat visual problems and manage diseases, injuries, and other disorders of the eyes.

Doctoral or professional degree $115,250

Physicians and surgeons

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses.

Doctoral or professional degree This wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year.

Podiatrists

Podiatrists provide medical and surgical care for people with foot, ankle, and lower leg problems.

Doctoral or professional degree $126,240

Veterinarians

Veterinarians care for the health of animals and work to protect public health.

Doctoral or professional degree $95,460

For more information about dentists, including information on accredited dental schools and state boards of dental examiners, visit

American Dental Association, Commission on Dental Accreditation

For information about admission to dental schools, visit

American Dental Education Association

For more information about general dentistry or on a specific dental specialty, visit

Academy of General Dentistry

American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology

American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology

American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry

American Academy of Periodontology

American Association of Endodontists

American Association of Orthodontists

American Association of Public Health Dentistry

American College of Prosthodontists

American Society of Dentist Anesthesiologists

CareerOneStop

For career videos on dentists, visit

Dentists

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

Orthodontists

Prosthodontists

O*NET

Dentists, All Other Specialists

Dentists, General

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

Orthodontists

Prosthodontists


Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Dentists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dentists.htm (visited ).